After the novel coronavirus outbreak in China was first reported, thousands of travelers from the Chinese mainland including those who passed through Hong Kong and Macau continued to enter the Philippines by plane and cruise ship.
By the time the Philippine government imposed a ban on foreigners arriving from the Chinese mainland and its administrative regions, health authorities were already monitoring so-called persons under investigation or PUIs in the country for possible nCoV infection. Three cases have been confirmed so far, with all the patients Chinese travelers, one of whom died in Manila – the first nCoV fatality outside the Chinese mainland.
Now the Philippine government is scrambling to trace those who came in close proximity to the three as they took domestic flights in the country, visiting Bohol, Cebu and Dumaguete. Health officials have admitted that contact tracing has not been as quick as it should be, as it had gotten off to a rough start.
With this weakness pointed out, the Department of Health can fine-tune contact tracing protocols. Considering the ever-growing number of people needing monitoring for possible contagion, the DOH can become quickly overwhelmed. This effort calls for the cooperation of all sectors, starting with those who might need isolation or self-quarantine.
Local government and barangay units have been mobilized for this challenging task. Officials have stressed that anyone needing quarantine in government facilities cannot refuse it, in the interest of public health. Those who have been advised to go on self-quarantine are also being monitored for compliance, through phone calls and house visits, officials have assured the public.
People can do their part by reporting anyone who recently traveled to affected countries and who appear to be manifesting flu symptoms. Officials said the possible cases could be reported to barangay offices for proper coordination with health authorities and prompt action.
Public vigilance will be a critical factor in preventing the spread of nCoV. The DOH needs every help it can get in its contact tracing effort.