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30 Filipinos from Wuhan quarantined in Capas

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Sunday evacuated 30 of its citizens from Wuhan city in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 800 people and infected nearly 37,200 others in the mainland and spread to 26 other countries.

A chartered Royal Air flight arranged by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Health (DOH) flew 29 adults and an infant to Clark International Airport in Pampanga province, where they were transferred into buses that brought them to the nearby Athletes’ Village in New Clark City in Tarlac province for health monitoring over the next two weeks.

More than 50 Filipinos in Wuhan had asked to be taken home after China locked down the city and the rest of Hubei as cases piled up. But 15 were unable to leave because of documentation problems. The others “weighed what was happening,” including the addition of more hospital beds, in Wuhan, the DFA said.

Some of those who had backed out reportedly decided against going because they did not like being put in quarantine. Others reportedly decided to stay because they did not want to lose their jobs in China.


Second flight uncertain

The DFA could not say whether there would be another evacuation.

“We still have to look at the demand. People have started to hunker down with the diminishing numbers, improving facilities and general improvement of the situation in Wuhan and Hubei,” the DFA said.



In the 24 hours ending at midnight Saturday, 2,656 new virus cases were reported in China, down by 20 percent from the 3,399 cases reported in the previous 24-hour period, which suggested the epidemic was slowing down.

Experts, however, said the total would rise further once Chinese laboratories tested a backlog of thousands of samples from possible cases.

Around 150 Filipinos live in Wuhan and 150 others elsewhere in Hubei, the DFA said.

All the 30 Filipinos who returned on Sunday morning showed no symptoms of the pneumonia-like disease, but they and the 10 government employees who assisted them, the flight crew and the service vehicle drivers would be isolated and observed for 14 days—the incubation period of the new coronavirus.

The government personnel who assisted in the repatriation were two representatives from the Philippine Consulate in Shanghai, three from the DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, and five medical workers from the DOH.

Angry locals

Like the sendoff at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport late Saturday, the welcome at Clark on Sunday morning was replete with fanfare. Dozens of government employees and some officials stood several meters from the airplane and cheered and waved Philippine flags at the returning Filipinos.

No protests greeted the Filipinos on their arrival at New Clark City, as threatened last week by local officials and residents who feared the virus would spread in the province.

Instead, provincial officials began to deploy health workers to distribute hygiene kits and surgical masks in communities around New Clark City.

Vice Mayor Roseller Rodriguez of Capas town, where Athletes’ Village is located, said about 2,000 people living near the housing center used for last year’s Southeast Asian Games were not given time to prepare for the arrival of the Filipinos from Wuhan.

Tarlac Gov. Susan Yap said the provincial government learned about the DOH’s quarantine plan only on Thursday night.

“Outrage and shock were normal reactions of people here. When they asked us what was going on, we couldn’t give them sufficient answers because we were also not consulted,” Yap said.

But Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Sunday urged them to cooperate and help the government prevent the spread of the virus in the Philippines.

The government had first considered using a big drug rehabilitation center at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province for the quarantine of the Filipinos from Wuhan. But local officials and residents balked. And it was discovered during an inspection last week that the center was not quite finished and could not be fixed in time for the arrival of the repatriates.

In a text message on Sunday, Año said the choice of Athletes’ Village for quarantine was “a sudden decision” made by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

He said the local government of Capas was informed of the decision of the task force, which “takes care of everything.”

“If there was a risk or danger to the lives of the people there, I would be the very first one to oppose,” he said.

He said Athletes’ Village was “isolated and does not affect the daily lives of the people” of the town.

“They should just be helping out instead of complaining,” Año said.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo assured the residents of Capas that they had nothing to fear about the use of Athletes’ Village as quarantine.

“All protocols are being implemented. So there is no danger to them. Those who arrived [from Wuhan] are very isolated,” Panelo said in a radio interview.

He stressed that Athletes’ Village was controlled by the national government’s Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).

“That is under the national government. So the local government cannot really do anything about it,” he said.

No local cases

There is no local transmission of the new virus in the Philippines. But two Filipinos—a crew member of a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, and a migrant worker in the United Arab Emirates—are receiving treatment after testing positive for the virus.

As of Sunday, 811 people in China have died in the epidemic and 37,198 others have been infected. The epidemic has spread to 26 other countries and the first fatality outside mainland China, a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, was reported in the Philippines on Feb. 1. The man’s companion, a 38-year-old woman, also from Wuhan, is recovering in a government-run hospital in Manila.

Health authorities are observing more than 200 other passengers on the international and domestic flights taken by the couple and another woman from Wuhan who had gotten sick but recovered and left the Philippines for symptoms of the disease.


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