DFA orders immediate repatriation of Filipinos on cruise ship in Japan
MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr has ordered the immediate repatriation of Filipinos on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan.
Locsin announced this in a tweet on Wednesday, February 19, hours after ship passengers who tested negative for COVID-19 – the name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) – following a 14-day quarantine were allowed to disembark.
"I have ordered our Tokyo Embassy to immediately repatriate our people in the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohoma, Japan," Locsin said.
"It’s our duty to take care our overseas Filipinos wherever they are. I want them home now!" he added.
@DFAPHL I have ordered our Tokyo Embassy to immediately repatriate our people in the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohoma Japan. It’s our duty to take care our Overseas Filipinos wherever they are. I want them home now!— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) February 19, 2020
As of Wednesday, 41 Filipino crew members of the ship tested positive for COVID-19. Like others on the ship confirmed to be infected with the virus, they were brought to hospitals in Japan for treatment. Including the 41 crew members, there were a total of 538 Filipinos on the ship.
Assistant Secretary Rosario Vergeire said in a news briefing on Wednesday that the Department of Health (DOH) was making all the necessary preparations for the returning Filipinos.
Vergeire said that the DOH was checking hospitals and facilities where the repatriates would be quarantined, in coordination with local governments, but did not specify them.
The Filipinos earlier repatriated from Wuhan in Hubei, China, were brought to New Clark City in Tarlac. The government had also earlier cited the unused drug rehabilitation facility in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, as a quarantine site.
'Proper repatriation process'
Vergeire said that Philippine officials have been coordinating with the Japanese government and the cruise ship management since last week to ensure that everything would be in place once the repatriation of the Filipinos begin.
Apparently in response to some views that it was taking the Philippine government some time to repatriate the Filipinos on the ship, Vergeire noted that many things had to be arranged because it involved a large group of over 500 people.
"So ever since last week, our government has already been coordinating with the government of Japan, and also our ministry of foreign affairs nakikipag-usap na po doon. We sat down with the Diamond Princess handler here already to negotiate our terms para makuha na natin kung paano talaga natin gagawin itong pagrerepatriate. So I think hindi naman sa natagalan; ipinoproseso lang nang maayos," she explained.
(Ever since last week, our government has been coordinating with the government of Japan, and also our ministry of foreign affairs is also talking with their counterparts. We sat down with the Diamond Princess handler here already to negotiate our terms so we can determine how to carry out the repatriation. So I think it's not that the process was slow; we're just doing this properly.)
Additional quarantine period
Vergeire said that a 14-day quarantine would be strictly enforced on all repatriated Filipinos. When the decision was made to repatriate the Filipinos on the ship, one of the conditions was to conduct an additional quarantine period even though they were already quarantined on the ship, she added.
“The 14-day period will somehow give us assurance,” the health official said.
The DOH also reported that its supplemental budget request was granted, and that most of the fund would be spent on personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Vergeire did not disclose the amount, but said the DOH would release the breakdown of this budget in the coming days.
As for the possible procurement of Favilavir, the first anti-novel coronavirus drug approved by China’s regulatory body, Vergeire said it would first have to be endorsed by the World Health Organization and the Philippines' Food and Drug Administration before it can be used locally.
As of Wednesday, the COVID-19 death toll reached 2,000 – 5 of the deaths outside China. There were more than 74,000 confirmed cases in China alone, and hundreds more reported in two dozen countries.
In the Philippines, there have been 3 confirmed cases – one death and two recoveries. A total of 527 possible cases are currently under investigation. – Rappler.com