MANILA, Philippines — Authorities are strictly monitoring Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) for possible cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (nCoV ARD) infection, according to an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.DILG Undersecretary for operations Epimaco Densing III said they are keeping a close watch on POGO firms to determine if there are workers, especially Chinese nationals, who may be infected with the virus.He said they have received reports that some POGO personnel are getting sick but are just being treated by a clinic of their employer’s choice.In an interview over radio station dzMM, Densing said the DILG has given an order to monitor Chinese nationals coming in because POGOs just house them in clinics.The Philippine National Police (PNP) had previously said there are about 56 licensed POGOs in the country employing at least 250,000 Chinese nationals. The number does not include similar companies operating in the country illegally.
Densing noted that he received information of some sick POGO employees in the country.
“There have been people who have fallen ill in the very area housing POGO workers,” he said.
The DILG official added that people showing symptoms of the virus who refuse to undergo medical examination in government-run hospitals would be physically carried from their homes.
Citizens should cooperate with local officials from their barangay health emergency response teams or they will be forcibly taken out of their homes and brought to a public hospital, according to Densing.
“This is already an issue of public welfare and issues of public welfare can go beyond the resistance of any individual,” he said, adding there are no exemptions, covering even foreigners who will not heed the order of local officials.
NBI to aid in contact tracing
In a related development, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said that if needed, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) would help in the contact tracing of passengers and individuals who interacted with the two Chinese nationals from Wuhan – where the nCoV reportedly originated – who were infected with the virus.
Guevarra said that while the Department of Health (DOH) is on top of the situation, the NBI would be willing to extend its assistance to help curb the spread of the virus in the country.
“The DOH said it can still handle the contact tracing but the NBI will be on standby to support,” he said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, meanwhile, said at a Senate hearing yesterday that there may be a possible third case of nCoV in the country, but he declined to give details.
The hearing, presided over by Senate health committee chair Sen. Christoper Go, sought to assure the public that the government was on top of the situation “since day one.”
Guevarra said the NBI, with its branches in other parts of the country, would be useful in locating the whereabouts of these individuals. The NBI has 17 regional offices and 25 district offices.
The two Chinese nationals traveled to Hong Kong and arrived in the country last Jan. 21. They arrived in Cebu and traveled to Dumaguete before proceeding to Manila.
Five days later, they were admitted at San Lazaro Hospital after experiencing fever, cough and sore throat and later tested positive for the virus.
On Saturday, the male Chinese national died of pneumonia complications resulting from the infection.
During last Monday’s meeting of the Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases at Malacañang, the justice chief said there was no order for the NBI to step in and render assistance to the government’s effort against the spread of the virus.
“The NBI is not being called to action yet,” Guevarra added.
Even the Bureau of Immigration (BI), which has been on the frontlines to implement the travel ban of Filipinos to mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau and to prevent foreigners from those areas to enter the Philippines, was not given additional tasking.
“No further instructions to the BI, except to implement the travel ban strictly until further orders,” Guevarra said.
Vizcaya cases negative for nCoV
Meanwhile, a mother and her daughter who were isolated for at least eight days in a hospital in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, were found negative for nCoV after undergoing tests, the DOH said yesterday.
Dr. Napoleon Obana, medical chief of Region II Trauma and Medical Center (formerly Veterans Regional Hospital), said the mother and her 10-year-old daughter had been admitted and placed immediately in an isolation room since Jan. 27, after they showed symptoms associated with the virus.
Obana said the young girl who traveled with her mother to Hong Kong for a vacation initially manifested pneumonia-like symptoms of high fever, cough and vomiting.
Sample test results from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine received by hospital officials last Monday night revealed that the mother and daughter were negative for the virus.
“They are now out of the isolation room and ready to be discharged,” Obana said.
The hospital official, however, said that another overseas Filipino worker who arrived in Bayombong from Singapore last Saturday was also admitted in an isolation room for investigation after experiencing fever, cough and throat irritation.
“We are urging residents to remain vigilant and not be frightened. All hospitals are closely monitoring patients who (show) symptoms associated with the Wuhan virus, especially those who came from China and other countries with nCoV cases,” Obana said.
Meanwhile, the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) had earlier ordered the suspension of all chartered flights from Macau and other parts of China to the Cagayan North International Airport (CNIA) in Lallo, Cagayan.
CEZA administrator and chief executive officer Raul Lambino said the suspension of all Macau/China-Lallo flights is meant to prevent the spread of the new virus.
Philippine-registered budget airline Royal Air Charter Service Inc. has been operating the Macau-Lallo route since August last year when the CNIA began its international chartered flights, transporting mostly Chinese tourists bound for various resort destinations in Santa Ana, Cagayan.
“We cannot simply put at risk the lives of our people in the wake of a global concern against the spread of this deadly disease, and since air travel is one of the quickest ways that a virus can spread, we are going to suspend our charter flights,” Lambino, who is also the presidential adviser for Northern Luzon, said.
The DOH in Cagayan Valley, together with personnel from the Bureau of Quarantine and the Aviation Security Unit of the PNP, also secured the four other operational airports in Cagayan Valley, which includes Cauayan City Domestic Airport in Cauayan City, Isabela; Tuguegarao Domestic airport in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan and Basco Airport in Batanes. – With Evelyn Macairan, Victor Martin, Gilbert Bayoran, Miriam Desacada, Eva Visperas, Rudy Santos, Paolo Romero.