MANILA: Philippines health officials on Saturday recommended declaring a public health emergency following the first local transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
It follows the Department of Health (DOH) raising the COVID-19 alert level to Code Red “in anticipation of a possible sustained community transmission” of the disease.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed in a news conference that the fifth COVID-19 case - of a 62-year-old male Filipino with pre-existing hypertension and diabetes mellitus - had been reported in the Philippines on Friday. He has no history of recent travel outside the country.
Duque added that the patient’s 59-year-old wife had also tested positive for the disease, bringing the country’s confirmed number of cases to six.
Both have been admitted to the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine. Authorities say that while the man is suffering from severe pneumonia, his wife is in a stable condition.
“The DOH is currently exhausting all its efforts to identify others who may have come in contact with the confirmed cases to ensure that this localized transmission does not progress to community spread,” Duque said.
In raising the COVID-19 alert status to Code Red sublevel 1, Duque explained that it was a preemptive call to ensure that authorities and health care providers could prepare for a possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases.
“The DOH has recommended to the Office of the President for the declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency which will facilitate mobilization of resources, ease processes, including procurement of critical logistics and supplies, and intensifying reporting.”
The secretary also reminded people to practice hand hygiene, maintain cough etiquette, avoid unnecessary travel and postpone mass gatherings as he stressed that it was every individual's responsibility “to protect ourselves and the people around us.”
Duque said that once there was sustained community transmission, or an increasing number of local cases whose links could not be established, the strategy would move from intensive contact tracing to the implementation of community-level quarantine and or the suspension of work or school.
Health care providers, institutions, and stakeholders were also reminded to exercise the utmost prudence in sharing sensitive information about suspected or confirmed cases.
“Our objectives for sharing information are two-pronged: ensure the public's health and safety by facilitating contact tracing and ensure that the individual’s right to privacy has not impinged. Hence, we appeal to all to coordinate closely with the DoH when disseminating information to the public and within their respective institutions,” Duque said.