More than 400 Filipinos who were stuck for two weeks on the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday, and are now facing even stricter quarantine measures than previous returnees at New Clark City in Tarlac, the Health Department confirmed today.
Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines that stricter measures are in place for the Diamond Princess repatriates compared to the 49 Filipinos who came home from Wuhan City — ground-zero of COVID-19 — because the transmission rate was higher inside the ill-fated ship. The group from Wuhan, all of whom tested negative for the virus, was released on Saturday after completing a 14-day quarantine.
Vergeire said the virus cases on the cruise ship started with 10 infections, and have since risen to nearly 700, with the number of Filipinos infected currently at 80, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Of the 80, 10 have recovered and been discharged, while the remaining 70 are still being treated in Japan.
“This time it’s going to be different from the previous repatriation because as we know the transmission dynamics in the ship was different from what we had when we had our Wuhan repatriates. So this time their movement will be limited,” Vergeire said. She added that the 448 Diamond Princess returnees, plus nine members of the medical team and five foreign affairs officials who escorted them home, will not be allowed to mingle with each other and will only be allowed to go out for a limited time per day.
The Department of Health will also provide “psychosocial support” for the returnees to deal with what will be their second round of quarantine, after already having completed a 14-day stay on the ship before they were released. Medical teams will be deployed to New Clark City to check the patients twice a day for flu-like symptoms. Those found sick will be sent to hospitals for treatment.
The group arrived in two batches on Tuesday and early this morning at the Haribon Hangar at Clark International Airport in Pampanga. They were checked for symptoms before being transported to the quarantine site.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez told The Philippine Daily Inquirer that key Filipino crew members of the Diamond Princess will not be repatriated for the time being, as they are required to maintain and operate the ship.
To date, only three people in the Philippines have been infected with the virus — all of whom were Chinese nationals from Wuhan — including one who died, and two who reportedly recovered and left the country. Meanwhile, 85 Filipinos have contracted the virus overseas: 80 aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three in the United Arab Emirates, one in Hong Kong, and one in Singapore.