By Noel Cabobos
BORACAY ISLAND—Although there is still no confirmed case as to date of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the Philippines, a regional official of the Department of Health said it is “just a matter of time” before this new strain finally affects citizens of the country.
This was declared by Dr. Jessie Glen Alonsabe, head of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Department of Health-Western Visayas, during yesterday’s consultative meeting with stakeholders on this island along with representatives of various sectors and government agencies.
“He stressed though that there is no need for people on the island to panic because it will not help in addressing the current health issue, which so far is taking a heavy toll on China and starts to creep in to other countries,” he said.
As of presstime, the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to Hongkong, Thailand, Japan, United States, South Korea, Macao, and Singapore, with more than 900 affectation and 26 deaths.
“This is actually just like the previous SARS outbreak, also a fatal respiratory illness, which also originated in China in 2003 and the MERS-CoV outbreak in Saudi Arabia in 2012,” he said.
Despite the threat, Alonsabe, however, emphasized that everyone plays a key role in order for this disease not to create an outbreak in the country.
“We have to be very cautious and vigilant. We should all be watchful and careful every day, follow health protocols, and most importantly, we have to isolate persons of interest and manage them properly,” Alonsabe stated.
LIST OF FACTORS
Kalibo caters to two flights per day from Wuhan, China through flight carriers Pan Pacific Airline and Royal Air Charter with a carrying capacity of 200 pax for each flight. This means that before the travel ban for flights from Wuhan, around 400 Chinese tourists were arriving at the Kalibo International Airport every day from Wuhan City alone.
Prior to the imposition of a lockdown of Wuhan by the Chinese government on Thursday, 135 Chinese tourists landed in Kalibo direct from the epicenter of the virus inciting fears among Aklanons and tourists staying on Boracay after they were eventually allowed entry to the island.
Currently, the 135 Chinese tourists are billeted in 3 various resorts on the island.
Wyrlou Samodio, legal division chief of Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), on Friday, announced that the 135 tourists shall be sent back to their point of origin, which was confirmed by Engr. Eusebio Monserate Jr., acting chief of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) in Kalibo, saying there are outbound flights to Wuhan starting tonight, January 25, to send the tourists back to China.
However, the Chinese government has directed the 135 tourists to stay on the island until Jan. 27, the scheduled duration of their stay on Boracay, and “until further notice,” said Peter Tay, liaison officer of the Chinese Embassy in Boracay island.
Dr. Leslie Ann Luces, Aklan Provincial Health Officer, has urged the management of hotels and resorts on Boracay to start a mandatory use of protective gloves and masks for their Housekeeping staff when cleaning rooms to avoid being infected by droplets.
She also called on them to maintain an “isolation room for every resort or hotel just in case”.
“But again, we appeal to everyone not to panic. Let’s not just believe the news that are posted especially on social media inciting fears and posting face reports, but instead keep tuning in to the DOH updates and advisories that we are regularly posting regarding the virus,” she intimated.
She underscored the country is now in the “influenza season” and things like fever, coughs or cold are just but common right now.
“There are established protocols and tests for us to find out if it’s the new coronavirus,” she said as she bared that the DOH will be establishing a monitoring unit at the Don Ciriaco Tirol Memorial Hospital to check and cater on request for check-up for this particular strain.”
Luces had also cited the importance of practicing the following “good habits” to reduce the risk of being infected by the coronavirus: clean hands with soup and water or alcohol-based hand rub or sanitizers; cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or flexed of elbow; avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms; thoroughly cook meat and eggs; and avoid unprotected contact with live or farm animals.
“It’s very crucial now to really engage with the hotel group because of the presence of a numerous number of Chinese tourists that came from Wuhan,” she said adding, “but we have to emphasize that prevention really is the key for us to stop our country from being affected by this outbreak.”
Elena Tosco Brugger, president of Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Boracay, meanwhile, has appealed to all fellow stakeholders as well as tourists on the island to be very vigilant and pro-active especially in these troubling times.
“The point is that if this particular issue is not handled properly, it’s not only the tourism industry of Boracay island will be at stake here, but also our health and wellness,” She said.
For his part, Jony Salme, chairman of Boracay Foundation, has called on all the people now on Boracay to be united and to be always on their toes and aways ready to respond to the challenging demand of the situation.
“We have to support each other and our authorities in order for this virus not to start an outbreak here or else we will all be sorry,” he noted. Relatedly, Municipal Councilor Nenet Graf, yesterday said she would request for a special session of the Sangguniang Bayan of Malay this week to institute moves aligned with the DOH program in preventing the spread of the disease on the island.