(UPDATED) Health Department bracing for return of Filipinos aboard virus-hit cruise ship, one patient recovers

The Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Facebook
The Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Facebook

The Department of Health today announced that it is finalizing plans to repatriate the 538 Filipinos aboard the Diamond Princess, the coronavirus-hit cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan that reached the end of its 14-day quarantine period today.

Assistant Secretary for Public Health Services Maria Rosario Vergeire said in today’s briefing that the number of Filipinos aboard the ship who have tested positive for COVID-19 has risen to 41, up six cases from yesterday’s 35. All of them are crew members.

However, the Department of Foreign Affairs today said that one of the 41 infected has reportedly recovered and will be discharged from the hospital in Japan today.

Vergeire maintained that the health department “will follow strict infection and quarantine procedures to ensure the safety of our repatriates and health workers who will man the quarantine facility.”

She added that the crew members infected with the virus will not be included in the initial repatriation, and will remain in hospitals in Japan for the time being. The rest of the Filipinos who haven’t shown symptoms will be returned to the Philippines, where they will have to undergo another 14-day quarantine, despite already completing a quarantine on the ship.

The health official said they are planning for the repatriates to be brought home in a single batch aboard two chartered airplanes within a week.

The department has yet to confirm where the repatriates will be housed.

“We already have identified a facility. But for now we want to properly coordinate it with the local governments and the community,” Vergeire said, adding that the department understands “the concerns of the local governments” who worry their constituents would be exposed to the virus.

The government recently welcomed home 30 Filipinos evacuated from Hubei province — where the COVID-19 coronavirus originated — who are quarantined at the New Clark City in Tarlac. To date, none of the repatriates from Hubei have tested positive for the virus. The military facility Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija was also previously eyed to house the returnees from Wuhan, but the Health Department has not said whether the new repatriates will be housed there.

Read: Filipinos working in Hong Kong, Macau now exempt from travel ban

Yesterday, Hong Kong health officials disclosed that a 32-year-old Filipina worker had tested positive for COVID-19 — the same day that Philippine officials announced that Filipino workers in Hong Kong and Macau were to be exempted from a ban on travel to China and its special administrative regions.

An official from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration today said the agency is still in the process of confirming the case.


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