As the 2019 novel coronavirus (n2019-nCoV) has stoked fears worldwide, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar cautioned Saturday the public against actions that may discriminate people suspected of being infected by the virus.
In a press statement, Andanar appealed to the public to stay “calm, level-headed, and compassionate,” assuring them that there have already been global efforts to stop the 2019-nCoV epidemic.
“As the issue of a viral outbreak affects everyone, let us not engage in discriminatory behavior, nor act with any bias towards our fellowmen. The reality is everyone is susceptible to the virus,” the PCOO chief said.
“We should not let fear turn us against one another, especially if these fears are unfounded. We must not stigmatize people, especially when they are at their most vulnerable, but empathize with them instead,” he added.
Discrimination against Chinese tourists has been reported in several countries, amid public fears of acquiring the deadly infectious disease.
The new strain of the virus, which originated in Wuhan City, China, has spread to over a dozen countries, many of which are Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines.
The death toll from the 2019-nCoV outbreak in China has already climbed to 259, the Chinese government announced on Saturday.
The number of people in China afflicted with new coronavirus has also surged to nearly 12,000.
Andanar ensured that the Duterte government is already coordinating with other countries and their government health agencies, as well as with international health organizations to contain the 2019-nCoV.
“Preventing the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV is not something we can do alone,” he said.
“Let us not resort to panic, sow fear-mongering or spread misinformation. Solidarity, empathy, and cooperation are what we need to successfully take actions that will overcome this health concern,” Andanar added.
He also advised the public not to hoard face masks and create an unnecessary scarcity that may prevent others, including health workers and sick people, from protecting themselves against the virus.
Gov’t agencies ‘concerted effort’
The World Health Organization has declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak as a global health emergency.
So far, a 38-year-old Chinese tourist from China, the first 2019-nCoV patient in the Philippines, is undergoing proper medical treatment at San Lazaro Hospital in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Andanar guaranteed that there is a “concerted effort” from government agencies to implement necessary precautionary measures to prevent the spread of China’s novel coronavirus to many parts of the Philippines.
“With the first case of 2019-nCoV confirmed yesterday and the World Health Organization having declared the virus as a public health emergency of international concern, we have intensified our preventive and control measures. It is a concerted effort being taken by our different agencies, to ensure that an outbreak is avoided,” he said.
Andanar noted that the Local Government department has already advised local government units (LGUs) to create their respective Coronavirus Task Force, which will ensure that local health authorities have the necessary equipment and are trained in the prevention, control, and containment of the 2019-nCoV.
The coronavirus task force is also tasked to make sure that those suspected of being infected with 2019-nCoV are referred and transported to the Department of Health (DOH)- designated-coronavirus referral center or hospitals, he said.
Andanar said LGUs are also mandated to promote public awareness on the 2019-nCoV threat, while the Education department continues to conduct information campaigns in schools and several communities.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation and its attached agencies have implemented safety protocols as early as January 23, and are in close coordination with the DOH and the Bureau of Quarantine to secure transport terminals and monitor arriving passengers, Andanar said.
Andanar said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines has reactivated its communicable disease preparedness procedures on all airports, especially those with international flights.
The Civil Aviation Board, on the other hand, has immediately and indefinitely suspended all air services operations between Wuhan and any point in the Philippines, he said.
“Airport frontline personnel have been advised to follow precautionary measures, to exercise extreme vigilance in handling passenger arrivals, and to strictly monitor those who may be infected by the virus,” Andanar said.
To ensure safe public land transportation, Andanar said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has asked franchise holders to ensure that all public utility vehicle drivers and conductors are wearing face masks “at all times.”
Andanar added that the LTFRB has asked terminal operators to ensure proper sanitation and provide face masks and disinfectants or sanitizer for “free” for passengers.
He also assured the public that ship owners and operators have already been advised by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to install necessary medical equipment and equip their personnel with full information about the virus to ensure effective monitoring of 2019-nCoV.
Andanar said the MARINA has already put in place monitoring procedures like body temperature tests for people entering its building, wearing of masks for its frontline personnel, the provision of alcohol dispensers at its entrances and comfort rooms, and the regular sanitation of its premises.
To keep the public informed, Andanar said the PCOO has also activated its “Laging Handa (Always Ready) communications team that will provide information and updates from government agencies with regard to the 2019-nCoV through all government media platforms.
“These measures are all being undertaken by various government agencies to contain the spread of the virus,” he said.
“We enjoin the public to be vigilant and conscientious, and to work with the authorities and follow their prescribed procedures and precautionary measures. Preventing the spread of the virus is a shared effort, which requires the cooperation of everyone,” Andanar added. (Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos/PNA)