Filipinos in Middle East urged to get clearance before returning
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Health (DOH) wants overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East who have been tested for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) to get a clearance first before returning to the Philippines.
In an interview, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the DOH would recommend to the Philippine embassies in the Middle East, where the virus is said to have originated, to require Filipinos to present a clearance showing they are negative of the disease before they are allowed to depart for the Philippines.
No travel restrictions
The embassies, Ona said, should immediately be notified of the names of the Filipinos who were required to undergo MERS-CoV tests.
“If you’re in the Middle East and you were identified through contact tracing that you were in close contact with somebody suspected to be infected with the virus, you have to undergo testing. And you should not be allowed to leave until after test results are negative. We will ask the assistance of our ambassadors there and even the airline companies,” he told reporters.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has not advised special screening at points of entry in relation to MERS-CoV. It has also not recommended any travel or trade restrictions.
But Ona, citing provisions of the Quarantine Law of 2004, explained that the government can impose necessary restrictions to travel when the people’s health are at stake.
“This is to ensure that the Philippines remains MERS-CoV-free. This is a health issue that involves the whole country. This disease could possibly spread very fast and endanger the health of Filipinos if we do not impose strict measures,” he said.
Ona said they did not want a repeat of what happened last week when a male Filipino nurse from the United Arab Emirates, who was initially diagnosed to be positive of MERS-CoV while in the UAE, returned to Manila without knowing the results of his test.
Exposed to virus
The OFW was believed to have been exposed to the virus through a Filipino paramedic in the UAE who died recently after contracting MERS-CoV. He was ordered to take laboratory tests but he left for Manila before the results were released.
Upon his arrival in Manila, the results from the UAE were released, showing he was infected. This prompted the DOH to put him and his family in quarantine for further tests, which yielded negative results.
MERS-CoV is a communicable disease that may be passed on to others through close contact with a positive carrier. It has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days and symptoms may include fever, coughing, sneezing and runny nose two weeks after exposure.
Ona said they were taking all the necessary precaution to prevent the disease, which he described as “new and emerging,” from entering the country.
Health authorities continue its search for the other fellow passengers of the male health worker from UAE on Etihad Airways Flight No. EY 0424.
The DOH said that as of 12 noon Wednesday, there were still 43 out of the 415 passengers of the flight who had yet to submit themselves to nose-and-throat swab test for the deadly virus.
Ona said that so far, 190 of those tested yielded negative results.
To raise awareness on the disease, information about MERS-CoV will now be included in the predeparture orientation seminar (PDOS) for OFWs.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz on Wednesday directed the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) to include a module on MERS-CoV in the orientation seminar.
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” Baldoz said. With a report from Miguel R. Camus
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.