By Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem
Health officials in the Philippines reported the first new coronavirus death outside of China on Sunday as Manila announced an upgraded ban on travelers from the Asian superpower.
In a news conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the patient, a 44-year-old Chinese man was admitted to San Lazaro Hospital in Manila on Jan. 25 after experiencing fever, cough and sore throat. He tested positive for the coronavirus and died Saturday.
“Over the course of the patient’s admission he developed severe pneumonia. In his last few days, the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement. However, the condition of the patient deteriorated within the last 24 hours, resulting in his demise,” Duque told reporters.
He said the patient was the companion of the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the country, a 38-year-old Chinese woman. She has been isolated and remains under observation.
“This is the first reported death outside China. However, we need to keep in mind that this is not a locally acquired case. This patient came from the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, China,” said Dr. Rabi Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization representative in the Philippines.
Duque said his office is coordinating with the Chinese Embassy to possibly cremate the man’s remains.
Health department spokesman Eric Domingo said personnel who came in contact with the couple at the San Lazaro government hospital near the health department practiced stringent infection control measures.
Domingo also said the agency’s epidemiology bureau is tracing passengers who were on the same flights as the couple who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan through Hong Kong on Jan. 21.
“The persons under investigation have not been increasing rapidly,” Domingo said. “With the ban now ordered by the president, it will be a lot easier for us because we would be looking for fewer people coming into the Philippines.”
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday widened his earlier ban on travelers from China to include all of the mainland along with Hong Kong and Macau.
More than 14,600 cases, mostly in China, and more than 300 deaths related to the coronavirus have been confirmed as of Sunday, according to a tracking map created by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Those numbers on Friday were about 9,700 cases and more than 200 deaths.
Since last week, the Philippines has placed 36 people under observation for possible infection. While the couple tested positive, 30 were negative and results have not been received for the other four.
Elsewhere, other countries have taken similar steps to stem the flow of visitors from China, especially those traveling from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.
On Sunday, the Indonesian government flew 243 Indonesians from Hubei province and placed them under quarantine at a military base on Natuna Besar island northwest of Borneo, leading to protests from about 200 people who burned tires, Reuters news service reported.
Indonesia also barred entry to visitors who have been in China for 14 days, announcing a plan to stop all stop flights temporarily to and from mainland China starting Wednesday, according to the news service.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global emergency. Authorities said the infections had surpassed the total in the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which killed about 800 people.