DOH says no evidence cruise ship buffet, hotpots cause COVID-19

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 17 2020 04:59 PM

A driver wearing protective suits is seen inside a bus which believed to carry elderly passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 14, 2020. Kyodo via Reuters

MANILA — Following news of the increasing number of people testing positive for the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 in the Diamond Princess cruise ship and reports of a family being infected after sharing hotpot, the Department of Health (DOH) asked the public not to panic and jump to conclusions.

“There are general precautions. We don’t have to say that if you eat buffet or shabu-shabu, you’ll get sick,” said Health Assistant Secretary for Public Health Services Maria Rosario Vergeire during a press conference.

“We cannot confirm, we cannot say tama po yan, yung mga buffet at shabu-shabu, kasi kami rin po, walang direct evidence kung dyan nagoriginate,” she added.

(We cannot confirm, we cannot say that it is through buffet or shabu-shabu because we don’t have direct evidence if the virus really originates from that.)

In Hong Kong, media reported that 10 members of a family became infected with COVID-19. They supposedly enjoyed a communal dish of hotpot before they got sick. The report greatly affected the hotpot businesses in the city, with many removing the offering from their menus, according to several news reports from Hong Kong. Some restaurants also closed down for disinfection.

Hotpots are a popular communal meal, especially during winter as it allows people to toss in their choice of meat, fish and vegetables into a pot of heated soup.

Meanwhile, many have speculated about how disease can easily spread on cruise ships, especially during social events like buffet lunches. The Diamond Princess cruise ship so far has more than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of its 3,200 passengers.

But Vergeire said there is no evidence so far to single out buffets or hotpot meals.

“I don’t want to zero in buffets or if you eat shabu-shabu. We should disregard that information because we are going to scare people away. Again, our businesses will suffer because of this misinformation,” she said, adding that they continue to coordinate with various industries amid efforts to prevent disease from spreading," she said.

The World Health Organization and the Department of Health have dismissed the possibility that the new strain of coronavirus is airborne.

“Our working mode of transmission is through direct contact and through droplet infection,” Vergeire said.

She explained that droplets carrying viruses can only travel for a short distance.

“If you speak or you cough or you spit. The virus can be transmitted within 3 feet. That’s droplet infection,” she said.

She explained that eating with friends is within that “general context” so there is no need to single out communal meals in restaurants or cruise ships as the culprit of the spread of the disease.

Vergeire said it is better for people to just following universal precautions such as avoiding crowded places.

“If we really need to attend events, we know what to do: cough etiquette and regular washing of hands,” she said.

The health officials said people who are not feeling well can also call the department for help.