ILOILO City – The Department of Health (DOH) in Region 6 has issued a “code white” alert for all hospitals as part of efforts to shield Western Visayas from a novel coronavirus that has killed at least 56 people and infected almost 2,000 since its discovery in the city of Wuhan in China.
A code white alert refers to the readiness of hospital manpower like general and orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, internists, operating room nurses, opthalmologists, and otorhinolaryngologists, to respond to any emergency situation.
Also during a code white alert, emergency service, nursing and administrative personnel residing at the hospital dormitory shall be placed on an on-call status for immediate mobilization.
The code white alerted started on Jan. 22, said Dr. Marlyn Convocar, DOH Region 6 director, and would go on “until further notice.”
Her office issued notices to governors Florencio Miraflores of Aklan, Rhodora Cadiao of Antique, Esteban Evan Contreras of Capiz, Samuel Gumarin of Guimaras, Arthur Defensor Jr. of Iloilo, and Eugenio Lacson of Negros Occidental.
Convocar said not only hospitals but rural health units, too, must be ready to act should there be suspected cases in their areas.
A coronavirus is a family of viruses which include the common cold. But this virus has never been seen before, so it’s been called 2019-nCov, for “novel coronavirus”.
New viruses can become common in humans after jumping across the species barrier from animals. The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of 2003 started in bats and transferred to the civet cat which passed it on to humans.
This new virus also causes severe acute respiratory infection. Symptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.
There is no specific cure or vaccine yet.
Based on early information, it is believed that only a quarter of infected cases are “severe”, and the dead are mostly – though not exclusively – older people, some of whom have pre-existing conditions.
Chinese authorities suspect a Wuhan seafood market that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals” was the source of the outbreak.
“We continuously monitor the entire region. All health facilities are requested to report immediately all suspected cases within 24 hours,” according to Convocar.
Last week DOH confirmed that three Boracay Island-bound Chinese visitors who entered the country through the Kalibo International Airport were placed under quarantine in Kalibo, Aklan.
The airport’s thermal scanner detected them with fever.
The Kalibo International Airport services direct flights to and from Wuhan City.
The three Chinese nationals were referred to the Dr. Rafael S. Tumbukon Memorial Hospital (DRSTMH), said Dr. Glenn Alonsabe, DOH regional epidemiologist.
The first to be quarantined, according to Dr. Cornelio Cuachon of the Aklan Provincial Health Office, was a 29-year-old Chinese national. This was on Jan. 17. The second was a three-year-old girl on Jan. 18.
The most recent, on Jan. 20, was a 65-year-old Chinese.
“The 29 years old Chinese was advised to stay overnight at the DRSTMH while the young girl was considered an outpatient. The 65-year-old patient, on the other hand, is currently being checked at the hospital,” said Cuachon.
Throat swab specimens were collected from the three foreigners then these were sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Manila for analysis.
It may take time before the results would be known, said Cuachon.
On the other hand, joining the rest of the world in heightening measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, the Iloilo Airport in Cabatuan, Iloilo started screening passengers arriving from Hong Kong and Singapore for fever and flu symptoms.
According to Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) Iloilo Airport terminal supervisor Arthur Parreño, his agency has tightened medical quarantine protocols.
Bureau of Quarantine personnel have been posted on Aerobridge 3, the designated passageway of passengers arriving from Hong Kong and Singapore.
The thermal scanner has also been activated to detect passengers with fever – one of the symptoms of those infected with the new coronavirus known also as 2019-nCoV.
“Feverish passengers would be ushered to an isolation room,” said Parreño.
Hospital authorities would be contacted for an ambulance that would take the passengers to the hospital for further examination.
“The suspected cases won’t be passing the passenger terminal but through the ramp in going to the waiting ambulance,” Parreño stressed.
The CAAP-Iloilo chief said his office is also waiting an order from their central office for the possible free distribution of face masks at the airport.
The Iloilo Airport services 50 flights each day (25 departure, 25 arrival) including flights to and from Hong Kong and Singapore./PN