MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said that while there have been no additional cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines in recent days, it will remain vigilant as other countries experience local transmission.
The agency said that as of Feb. 17, there are only 171 patients under investigation (PUIs) confined in hospitals. These are people who either traveled to China or were in contact with COVID-19 patients and then showed symptoms of the illness. Meanwhile, 350 other PUIs have already been discharged.
“The decrease in our admitted PUIs reflect the Department’s strengthened surveillance, assessment, and management interventions for the COVID-19 Health Event," Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a statement.
"Although we see a decreasing trend, the Department will not be complacent and will be more vigilant as we brace for the possibility of local transmission in our country.”
Since the Philippines started monitoring the outbreak, a total of 453 PUIs have already tested negative for the new strain of coronavirus, while 22 have yet to submit specimen for laboratory testing.
At a press conference, Health Assistant Secretary for Public Health Services Maria Rosario Vergeire reminded the public to practice regular hand washing and cough etiquette.
There were only three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, all were Chinese nationals who traveled from Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease.
The first two were a couple — a 38-year-old woman and a 44-year-old man. While the man died due to the respiratory illness, the woman recovered and was discharged last week.
The third case of COVID-19 was a 60-year-old Chinese woman who recovered and was discharged before it became known she was earlier infected by the virus.
So far, none of their contacts have tested positive for the dreaded virus, which have infected some 72,000 people and killed more than 1,800, mostly in China.
The DOH earlier reported that its Epidemiology Bureau was able to trace all 441 contacts of the first two cases. As of Monday, 280 have been interviewed, of whom, 221 completed and 14 are still undergoing home quarantine procedure. Of the 45 people who were considered PUIs after showing symptoms of the illness, 31 were already discharged, six are under strict monitoring and another six have left the country after being discharged.
But for the third COVID-19 case, only 255, or 34 percent of 740 contacts were traced. A total of 172 were interviewed, of whom, 155 completed home quarantine, 15 have been discharged, and two have left the country.
“We are working with the PNP-CIDG and concerned local government units to expedite our contact tracing for the 3rd confirmed case. DOH is keen on ensuring that all those who may have come in contact with this case be immediately assessed and facilitated,” Vergeire quoted Duque saying.
Vergeire said the government is doing its best to contact all of the people who interacted with the three cases of COVID-19 in the country.
Asked if the Philippines is now safe with no more positive cases being reported, she said, “We cannot say that.”
Vergeire said there are still many “gaps in information” that experts need to work on, including the source of the virus.
“While the number of cases are declining (in the country), we should still not be complacent,” she said.