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PH planes boarded by coronavirus-positive passenger pulled out

Loreben Tuquero

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Cebu Pacific and PAL say the planes have been disinfected, and flight crews have been quarantined

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES. Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal implements strict precautionary measures against novel coronavirus (nCov). Photo by Gelo Litonjua/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific said on Friday, January 31, they had pulled out the planes that were boarded by the Philippines’ first novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) patient.

The two airlines issued separate statements on Friday, a day after the Department of Health confirmed a 38-year-old woman as the country’s first case of 2019-nCoV. The woman, who also visited Cebu and Dumaguete before heading to Manila, took Cebu Pacific flights on January 21 and a PAL flight on January 25.

PAL said it placed two pilots and 4 cabin crew under quarantine. Meanwhile, the cabin crew and pilots on affected Cebu Pacific flights were also informed about the development, but Cebu Pacific said they showed no symptoms of illness.

Cebu Pacific said the planes that the nCoV patient boarded had been pulled out and disinfected. It said it was also implementing the following preventive measures:

  • Cleaning and disinfection of aircraft between flights
  • Ensuring that employees, frontline personnel, and cabin crew wear face masks while on duty
  • Providing face masks to passengers who show symptoms of illness
  • Isolating passengers who manifest symptoms of illness in empty rows inside the aircraft during the flight
  • Coordinating with health authorities in the event that there are passengers suspected of carrying the virus for immediate turnover and further observation

PAL said it was conducting these preventive measures:

  • Intensive cleaning and disinfection of aircraft used on routes to and from China
  • Assigning specific aircraft to be used only on China routes, arranging for these aircraft to park at designated remote areas of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport
  • Filtering of cabin air using special filters and air circulation systems that constantly refresh air on board and filter most coronaviruses
  • Thermal scanning of all arriving passengers; contributing thermal scanners to domestic airports which may not have the latest facilities
  • Ensuring the use of face masks by cabin crew and providing face masks to passengers upon request
  • Adjusting inflight service on China flights
  • Conducting information campaign at airports and onboard flights
  • reporting medical concerns in coordinating with health authorities and BoQ

The airlines also tracked down the passengers who might have come into contact with the woman who took flights on both airlines.

In coordination with the DOH and the Bureau of Quarantine, the two airlines informed the patient’s co-passengers about the confirmed case so they could have themselves checked. The BoQ will handle the medical observation of the concerned passengers and airline crew.

“We are also working to trace any onward journeys made by these passengers and crew on other flights, in case there is a need for BoQ to contact other people for precautionary medical observation,” PAL said in a statement on Friday.

Cebu Pacific has reduced its flights between the Philippines, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

PAL is set to reduce flights between Manila and mainland China by more than 50%, starting February 1. PAL has canceled all charter flights from China and has also prohibited accepting passengers from the Hubei province of China. (READ: Here’s what you can do if your flight to China has been cancelled

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international emergency, as the death toll climbs to 212 as of Friday. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a ban on travelers from Wuhan City – the epicenter of the outbreak – and the rest of Hubei province, China, which would last until the 2019-nCoV threat was over.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government also urged local government units to create their respective coronavirus task force, and to cooperate with the DOH in contact-tracing individuals who encountered the confirmed 2019-nCoV patient.

Health officials advised the public to practice proper hygiene and coughing etiquette, including constant washing of hands and coughing into the crook of the elbow. (‘Novel coronavirus or 2019 nCoV: What we know so far) – Rappler.com


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Loreben Tuquero

Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.