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Philippines now has capability to test samples for novel coronavirus – Duque

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed that the Department of Health (DOH) now has the capability to test samples for the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, no longer needing to send them to Australia for confirmation.

The primer needed to identify if suspected cases are positive for 2019 nCoV have been acquired from Japan, Duque said during a question hour before the House of Representatives on Wednesday, January 29. (WATCH: House question hour with health chief Duque on novel coronavirus)

The primer will allow the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the health department’s research arm, to determine "within 48 hours" whether samples from persons under investigation are positive for 2019-nCoV, which has infected over 6,000 in China and beyond, and killed over 130 in China, most of them in the city of Wuhan.

Initially, the RITM could only test samples for SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, the coronaviruses that caused outbreaks of SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome and MERS or Middle East respiratory syndrome. 

The DOH had been sending samples to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, prior to the acquisition of the 2019-nCoV primer. Duque said the 2019-nCoV primer would cut testing time “by 50%.” 

The Australian laboratory is currently processing 6 samples from the Philippines for 2019-nCoV, the results of which are expected either by Thursday, January 30, or Friday, January 31. All samples after these will be tested by the RITM.

What’s the latest on 2019-nCoV? The DOH confirmed on Wednesday, January 29, that a man under investigation for 2019-nCoV died early that day of complications due to pneumonia. (READ: 'Novel coronavirus' or 2019 nCoV: What we know so far)

The 29-year-old was a man from Yunnan, China, and had “many swollen lymph nodes,” renal warts, and was tested for HIV. The hospital director of San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, where the patient had been admitted since Monday, January 27, said the man tested positive for HIV. 

The DOH said it would still run tests on samples collected from the deceased patients to confirm if he had 2019-nCoV. 

Meanwhile, the government temporarily stopped issuing visas to travelers not just from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, but also Hubei province on Tuesday night, January 28. The Department of Foreign Affairs also said it would assist all Filipinos in Wuhan who wish to be repatriated. So far, two have come home and are under self-quarantine, the DOH confirmed. 

The DOH also met with all regional health directors on Wednesday to discuss local response to the emerging threat. – Rappler.com