Aquino orders creation of Task Force Mers-Cov

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the Department of Health (DOH) to mobilize a task force to create a heightened awareness among the public on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (Mers-Cov).

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said Saturday the DOH is working closely with all concerned government agencies to ensure public health and safety. However, he said that there is no epidemic or outbreak of the Mers-Cov.

“Upon the President’s instructions, the Department of Health has mobilized Task Force Mers or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus to create a heightened awareness among our people and prevent the spread of this communicable disease,” he said.

“At the outset, let me point this out: there is still no epidemic or outbreak of MERS-Corona Virus in the Middle East or the Arabian Peninsula. That is why the World Health Organization has not imposed restrictions in travel to and from the Middle East,” he added.

As a precaution, Ona said he approved the issuance of Bureau of Quarantine alert bulletins to those travelling from the Middle East and through the international airports.

He said Task Force Mers-Cov continues to trace and test all the passengers of Etihad Airlines flight EY 0424 that arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) in April 15.

One of the more than 400 passengers of the Etihad flight, a male Filipino nurse, tested positive for the Mers-Cov when he was still in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The DOH tracked this “Index Passenger” while he was on his way home and requested his relatives and well-wishers to subject themselves to testing and medical observation at a DOH regional hospital.

Ona said the “Index Passenger” tested negative for the virus based on the findings of the examination conducted by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). However, he said the other passengers who travelled with the “Index Passenger” were still considered at risk.

He urged the other passengers of the Etihad flight to submit themselves to testing.

“May I emphasize this important fact: the Mers-Corona Virus is a communicable disease that may be passed on to others through exposure or close contact with a positive carrier,” he said.

“Hence, all those who travelled with our Index Passenger are still deemed to be at risk, especially if we consider further that they all came from the Middle East, a high-risk area, and that the incubation period for this disease is up to 14 days. Hence, to rule out any possibility of infection, we strongly urge all of the other passengers of EY 0424 to immediately submit themselves to testing,” he said.

Ona said that of the 414 passengers of Etihad flight EY 0424, the DOH has traced and contacted 119 of them, of whom 72 have been tested. Of the 72 passengers, 40 tested negative.

Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, DOH Program Manager on Emerging Infectious Diseases, said the DOH continues to trace and contact the other passengers of the Etihad flight.

Suy said there is no epedimec or outbreak of Mers-Cov in the country.

The DOH also calls the attention of Filipinos who have returned recently from the Middle East to report to the nearest hospital if they experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, cold, and sneezing.

Ona also assured the public that the DOH is working closely with concerned government agencies, and will exert “maximum efforts” to keep them informed of the vital developments.

“On instructions of the President, the DOH is working closely with all concerned government agencies to ensure the health and safety of our people,” he said.

“The Department of Health assures our people, especially our overseas Filipino workers based in the Middle East and their families and communities, that government will exert maximum efforts to keep you informed and aware of all vital developments,” he added.

The DOH has also established 24-hour hotlines for the public.

The telephone numbers are: 711-1001; 711-1002; 0922-884-1564; 0920-949-8419; 0915-772-5621. (SDR)

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