MERS alert: 11 things OFWs should do

Jee Y. Geronimo
MERS alert: 11 things OFWs should do
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration asks recruitment agencies to report to the health department once they know of any case of the virus among their deployed workers abroad

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on Wednesday, April 23, told overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to take precautionary measures as the country remains on alert over the possible spread of the MERS Coronavirus

“While there is no travel restriction or deployment ban to Middle East countries relative to the MERS-CoV, we deem it proper and timely to issue an advisory on precautionary measures so that our OFWs can be guided on the proper steps they need to take to protect themselves,” Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz said in a statement Wednesday.

POEA is an attached agency of the Department of Labor and Employment.

The MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus is a highly fatal, influenza-like illness characterized by fever, cough, and often with diarrhea.

The Philippines is still MERS-free for now as the first laboratory-confirmed case of the infection – a male OFW from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – already tested negative of the virus. 

The Department of Health (DOH) also contacted those he had immediate contact with, including his co-passengers on Etihad Airways flight EY 0424 from Abu Dhabi on April 15

As of Thursday, April 24, the department said co-passengers who had been tested were negative of MERS, while 6 passengers have yet to get in touch with DOH

Be alert

In light of recent events on MERS, POEA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac reminded OFWs – whether newly-hired, returning, or on-site – to take note of the following:

  1. Proper hand hygiene, please. Wash your hands with soap or rub it with alcohol:
    – before and after eating
    – before and after handling, cooking, and preparing food
    – after coughing and sneezing
    – after using toilets
    – before and after touching animals

  2. Practice poper cough etiquette. Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing, and use a facial tissue if necessary. Dispose it in a proper waste bin afterwards.

  3. Avoid contact with farm and domesticated animals. DOH noted there are recent studies that detected the virus in camels. In fact, one infected camel case had been linked to a human case. 

  4. Avoid contact with people who are sick or infected with MERS. This is self-explanatory, but the POEA especially warns those with respiratory illness to stay home and wear a surgical mask to protect their own family members.

  5. For health workers, stricly follow infection control protocols. DOH said there is limited data on how MERS is transmitted, “possibly through direct contact of household members and health care providers exposed to confirmed cases.”

  6. Visit a doctor, a hospital, or a health facility immediately once you experience symptoms.

  7. Were you in close contact with a MERS patient? Get tested. Comply with the local health regulations and postpone trips abroad until you test negative of the virus. The first confirmed case in the Philippines was already en route to Manila when his tests from UAE yielded positive results.

  8. Strengthen your immune system. You can never go wrong when you practice healthy habits, such as regular exercise, balanced diet, and enough sleep of at least 8 hours. 

  9. Do not panic about MERS rumors. Keep yourself updated with verified information from concerned government agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, DOH, and POEA. 

  10. Monitor your health for at least 14 days. If you fall ill within 14 days upon arrival, you must report to any hospital and delay going to crowded places “until symptoms disappear.”

  11. Do not hesitate to ask for help. The POEA advised OFWs to call the following numbers when necessary:   

Bureau of Quarantine:
Tel. No. (632) 320-9101
(632) 320-9107

The Operation Center-Health Emergency Management Staff
Tel. Nos. +63 922-884-1564
+63 920-949-8419
+63 915-772-5621

National Epidemiology Center
Department of Health
Tel. No. (632) 743-1937

POEA also advised recruitment agencies to hold special briefings on MERS precautionary measures for recruited workers, and to report to the health department once they know of any case of the virus among their deployed workers abroad.

The World Health Organization reported Wednesday a total of 253 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS Coronavirus infection since September 2012, with 93 deaths worldwide.

A 41-year-old Filipina nurse died of MERS on August 29, 2013, while another OFW reportedly died of the virus last April 10.


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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.