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Government countering false nCoV claims

Francis Wakefield

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Amid the epidemic of information or “infodemic” in connection with the dreaded 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is mobilizing government information bureaus to combat the spread of false information both in print and social media.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defined “infodemic” as “an over-abundance of information — some accurate and some not” that hamper effective counter-measures and present potential harm to the public.

PCOO chief Secretary Martin Andanar said that President Rodrigo Duterte directed all government agencies to contain and neutralize the deadly virus via, among others, dissemination of timely and accurate information.

In this light, Andanar said that all attached agencies of PCOO were already tasked to disseminate infographic materials and quick news updates to keep the public properly informed.

“Trust that the government, through PCOO and its attached agencies, will immediately communicate to the public developments regarding the nCoV situation and continue to provide reminders on precautionary measures needed to prevent the spread of the disease,” Andanar added.

State media tapped

Andanar said that the Philippine News Agency, the Philippine Information Agency and the Bureau of Communications Services are now actively providing the public proper and vital information with news updates regarding the 2019-nCoV.

At the broadcast end, Andanar said that the People’s Television Network (PTV), the Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and the Public Broadcast Service-Radyo ng Bayan were instructed to issue hourly public service reminders on how to avoid the virus.

The government media arms will also be delivering important announcements and directives for the information of the general public.

“As the lead communications arm of the government, the PCOO has been at the forefront of delivering timely, accurate and reliable information about the 2019-nCoV-ARD to the public,” Andanar said.

“As the situation is that of a public health emergency, we are asking the public not to spread unverified and alarmist information about the virus,” he added.

Andanar stressed that while some may have good intentions in spreading unverified information, the possibility of such obstructing government efforts remains high.

“Though they may be made with good intentions, these unverified information and recommended precautions can impede the genuine efforts of the government and health experts with regards to dealing with the potential spread of the virus. More importantly, it will cause unnecessary panic and overreaction among the masses,” he added.

Carriers show symptoms

Six individuals, co-passengers of the Chinese couple who tested positive of the 2019-nCoV, exhibited symptoms of the said illness, the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) disclosed on Thursday.

The announcement came one day after the CIDG started deploying tracker teams for contact tracing.

The six were also passengers of the Cebu-Dumaguete and Dumaguete-Manila flights that the Chinese couple took last 21 and 25 January, respectively.

The 44-year-old Chinese man died last Saturday –the first death outside China. On the other hand, his 38-year-old partner remains confined at the San Lazaro Hospital but showing signs of improvement.

Apart from the couple, a 60-year-old Chinese woman was the third 2019-nCoV carrier confirmed by the Department of Health (DoH). However, she already returned to China.

There are presently 178 persons under investigation (PUI) now, according to the DoH.

PCol. Rhoderick Armamento, CIDG deputy director, said they were able to reach out to 23 out of the 61 passengers who were onboard Cebu Pacific’s 5J241 Cebu-Dumaguete flight.

Of the 23, three were confirmed to have manifested flu-like symptoms such as coughs and colds.

Thirty-eight others, however, are still to be tracked down by the police.

“When we contacted the three, we came to know that one was already on self-quarantine in a provincial hospital. The other two, however, are still staying in their respective homes,” Armamento said in a press conference in Camp Crame.

“We immediately reported this to the DoH and by this moment, our team from the DoH is already in the area and doing the interventions,” he added.

Meanwhile, 25 of the 132 passengers who took the Philippine Airlines (PAL) PR2452 Dumaguete-Manila flight were already traced by authorities. Of the said number, three also exhibited signs of the nCoV and are now under quarantine in different hospitals.

Sixteen could not be reached, while phone calls to 20 others were left unanswered.

“They voluntarily underwent self-quarantine, we did not visit them anymore after we validated that they are already indeed in the hospital,” Armamento said.

All passengers who have been contacted by CIDG were told to avoid unnecessary contact with people and just stay indoors or under quarantine until cleared, Armamento added.

Reset repatriation

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, at a press conference late afternoon Thursday, announced that the New Clark City in Capas will be used as quarantine facilities for returning Filipinos from Hubei.

Duque thanked Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) president Vince Dizon for offering Building A of the of the Athlete Village at New Clark City which was used during last year’s 30th Southeast Asian Games.

The health secretary said that the New Clark City facility is more suitable as quarantine area.

“It is strategically located, the facilities are more complete and the ambience is very nice, it’s open space,” Duque said.

He stressed that each room is equipped with television set, air conditioning unit and refrigerator. The DoH will be observing one patient, one room during the 14-day quarantine period.

Duque also cited the existence of medical facility inside the New Clark City.

Meanwhile A Filipina domestic worker died of a still undetermined strain of the coronavirus in Dubai, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Thursday.

Bello said the death of the 58-year-old woman was reported by the Philippine labor attaché in Dubai, adding that it was unclear what kind of coronavirus had infected her.

The woman, a native of General Santos City, had been working in Dubai for 28 years, he said.

He said arrangements were being made for the woman’s daughter to come to Dubai for her repatriation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is also awaiting the green light from Chinese authorities for the repatriation.

DFA Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez said they are still coordinating the protocols on the repatriation.

“The DFA is still coordinating permits, clearances, and protocols with the Chinese government,” Meñez said.

with Pat Santos and
Rex Espiritu

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