Still a lot of blind spots on new coronavirus


Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday that much remains to be learned about a new strain of coronavirus originating from a city in central China.

It has yet to be confirmed whether the novel coronavirus has reached the Philippines after three Chinese nationals quarantined in Kalibo have just had the flu and while the authorities are waiting for test results on a Chinese child in Cebu who has shown flu-like symptoms.

Duque clarified that there are six known strains on the coronavirus, four of which are thought to cause the common cold. The other two, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), have spread across the globe and have proven fatal in recent years.

Nevertheless, the Health Chief said the coronavirus is “not a death sentence,” but stressed that people with pre-existing medical conditions and a weakened immune system must be closely monitored.

He said that coronaviruses typically spread via sneezing and coughing through “aerial droplets,” and stressed the importance of personal hygiene and cough etiquette to reduce the chances of transmission.

Duque said that in one hospital in China there is “circumstantial evidence” of possible human-to-human transmission. As of 21 January, there were over 200 confirmed cases of new patients.

In the Philippines, at a hospital in Kalibo, Aklan, three Chinese nationals were quarantined, but Duque said on Wednesday that their symptoms did not match the case definition of the novel coronavirus by the World Health Organization.

He said they had “regular flu” and displayed no shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or severe respiratory disease symptoms.

In Cebu, a Wuhan-born Chinese child was isolated after displaying flu-like symptoms. The child tested SARS negative and MERS negative.

Duque said the child is no longer having a fever, though still coughing. A mother, who had also been isolated, showed no symptoms, the Health Chief said.

He said the Department of Health is awaiting confirmatory test results from Australia’s Reference Laboratory for Victorian Infectious Diseases.

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