Opinion

The novel coronavirus is here

The novel coronavirus is here

Clothing, handkerchiefs, utensils, gadgets, furniture – these are fomites, or objects and materials that can carry pathogens. The Department of Health says viruses can survive in fomites for up to seven days.

With this warning, the Bureau of Customs is reportedly intensifying its screening of shipments from countries with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Screening is tightest for shipments from the epicenter of the 2019-nCoV, China, with even used clothing or ukay-ukay being subjected to closer BOC inspection.

Whether the BOC has the capability to conduct this kind of pathological assessment is unclear. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has expressed appreciation for the precaution taken by the bureau.

The BOC said it is also monitoring imported animal food products. The bureau is supposed to be on high alert for such products amid the continuing spread of African swine fever, which has devastated the local hog industry. There are suspicions that ASF entered the Philippines through canned processed pork.

In Metro Manila, several Chinese schools recently suspended classes as part of precautionary measures to keep out nCov. Authorities have called for calm and cautioned against panic or kneejerk reactions. No measure, however, may seem like an overreaction after the DOH announced yesterday that the country has its first confirmed case of 2019-nCoV: a 38-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in Manila from Wuhan via Hong Kong on Jan. 21 and began manifesting symptoms on Jan. 25.

The DOH is awaiting test results from Australia on the Chinese man being monitored for nCoV, who died of pneumonia last Wednesday, just two days after being admitted at the San Lazaro Hospital. Authorities said the 29-year-old Chinese also had HIV – among the most vulnerable to the worst effects of nCoV.

While the 2019-nCoV reportedly has a high recovery rate, it is also spreading at breakneck speed. And there are many people who have weak or compromised immune systems for whom the virus can prove lethal. The Chinese woman traveled from Manila to Dumaguete and Cebu, and came in contact with a lot of people. At the risk of looking paranoid, the government needs to further step up measures to prevent the spread of this killer virus.

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