Church leaders in the Philippines have appealed to the public to stay calm after authorities confirmed a case of novel coronavirus infection in the country.
The country’s Health department on Jan. 30 confirmed that a 38-year-old female Chinese tourist has tested positive for the virus known as novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV.
Bishop Crispin Varquez of Borongan urged people not to panic. “Stay Calm. We must, however, be extra careful and follow the doctors’ advice on what to do,” he said.
The prelate urged the public to restrict themselves from “unnecessary travel.”
The tourist arrived in the Philippines from Wuhan, China, via Hong Kong on Jan. 21. She was admitted to a government hospital after complaining of mild cough on Jan. 25.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said Filipinos must “not be complacent” and should “take all precautionary measures” to prevent the spread of the disease.
He urged Filipinos to monitor and listen to health advisories issued by authorities and not spread “fake news” or wrong information about the virus.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga called for prudence and “to minimize contacts” to prevent the spread of infection.
In a press briefing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III assured the public that the agency “is on top of this evolving situation.”
“All necessary precautionary measures are being taken to halt the spread of the virus,” he said.
Duque assured the public that the country’s health facilities “are equipped and prepared to receive and care” for suspected and confirmed cases.
At least 23 patients under investigation are currently admitted in hospitals and five have been discharged but are still under strict monitoring, according to the Health department.
“I urge the public to stay calm and remain vigilant at all times. Let us continue to practice good personal hygiene and adopt healthy lifestyles,” he said.
On Jan. 29, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued an “oratio imperata” (obligatory prayer) against the spread of the virus.
The prelates also issued a set of health guidelines that the faithful have to observed inside the church.
The guidelines include proper and reverend Communion in the hand, regular change of holy water, installation of protective cloth on the grills of confessionals.
Mass goers are also discouraged from holding hands during the prayer of the “Our Father” and the shaking of hands when making the “Sign of Peace.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, meanwhile, has approved a ban on all travel from and to Wuhan in China, the epicenter of the virus.
The ban followed the discovery of the first confirmed case of the virus in the country.
A growing number of Filipinos has been calling for the imposition of a temporary ban on all travel from and to China, citing the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global emergency.
The international agency said the tenfold increase in cases in a week showed an extraordinary danger to countries, requiring governments to coordinate their responses.
“We have no time for prolonged discussion,” said Maria Leonor Robredo, the country’s vice president. She called on government agencies to provide urgent support for Filipinos in affected areas.
The Philippine government has said it is willing to evacuate some 170 Filipinos in Wuhan, but has yet to reveal a detailed plan.
It has already taken Philippine authorities some time to coordinate a national response to the possible spread of the virus.
Last week, authorities allowed hundreds of Chinese passengers on a cruise ship to disembark and visit Manila.
Their travels were cut short, however, by the decision of officials in Subic, a port north of Manila, to ban all Chinese arrivals.
The government last week also sent back a planeload of tourists from Wuhan bound for the world-famous Boracay Island.
But officials in the city of Davao, the president’s hometown, allowed in on Jan. 29 a flight from Jinjang, a Chinese city more than 1,000 kilometers from Wuhan, with 50 Chinese nationals onboard.
The Davao-based Chinese consul general Li Lin said his government had already urged travel agencies to halt the outbound trips from Jinjang.