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MANILA, Philippines – Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III is now under-self quarantine after being exposed to a senior health official who tested positive for COVID-19.
This was confirmed to Rappler by Duque in a phone call on Thursday, March 19. He said he started his home quarantine on Wednesday, March 18, two days after the DOH confirmed one of its senior officials, whom Duque said is a 60-year-old director, already has COVID-19.
Duque also got himself tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday and is awaiting the results.
“Yes I am on quarantine now because another official from DOH, from central office, tested positive and he’s symptomatic and in the hospital. But he is improving,” said Duque.
The Philippines’ top health official said he was in close contact with the COVID-19 patient for “about 3 times.” Duque is not showing symptoms, but he is closely monitoring his health because the DOH chief has hypertension and asthma.
“I have no fever, so I’m pretty okay. It’s just that of course I’m watching over my hypertension and asthma,” said Duque,
“So I just want to make the necessary precautions. So I’m on quarantine following our protocol,” said the DOH secretary, who added he would now have to lead the DOH’s efforts against combatting COVID-19 from within his house.
The Philippine government has long been grappling with a lack of supply of test kits for COVID-19. This has forced DOH to prioritize persons under investigation (PUIs) for testing. PUIs are the individuals who are manifesting severe symptoms of COVID-19 and have either traveled to a country with local transmission and have risk of importation of the virus, or have known exposure to a positive case.
The elderly who manifest COVID-19 symptoms, whether mild or severe, and those who have underlying medical conditions, will automatically get tested for possible infection.
Duque is ‘PUM’
Meanwhile, the DOH said persons under monitoring (PUM) are individuals who have a travel history and history of exposure to a coronavirus patient. They will undergo 14 days of self-quarantine at home or at barangay isolation units.
This means Duque is a PUM for now because he has known exposure to a positive case but has no symptoms yet. (READ: When should you get tested for coronavirus?)
As of 12 pm on Wednesday, the Philippines has tallied a total of 202 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 17 of which are fatal. Still, 7 patients have already recovered from the disease.
Experts from the DOH and WHO have estimated the novel coronavirus cases in the country could peak to as much as 75,000 in the next 3 months or by June if not properly contained.