PH airports on quarantine alert amid novel coronavirus scare

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Passengers arriving at NAIA

The Manila International Airport Authority, operator of Ninoy Aquino International Airport is now coordinating with the Department of Health for the strict implementation of quarantine measures to prevent the entry of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) from China.

MIAA public affairs chief Connie Bungag said the DOH’s Bureau of Quarantine is the one in charge with nCoV-related matters.

The DOH is the health border control. MIAA is here to support DOH’s Bureau of Quarantine where they need help and if MIAA can provide it,” MIAA public affairs chief Connie Bungag told reporters.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), which operates most airports in the country, also said on Wednesday that it was working in coordination with the DOH and the BoQ in closely monitoring arriving passengers from China especially at Kalibo International Airport, which has direct flights from Wuhan and other cities in China

CAAP director general Jim Sydiongco ordered the reactivation of the communicable disease preparedness procedures in CAAP-operated international airports such as Puerto Princesa, General Santos, Zamboanga, Davao, Kalibo, Laoag, and Iloilo.

Aside from operating seven international airports, CAAP also manages 35 domestic airports that are open to commercial operations.

CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio said all airports are advised “to exercise extreme vigilance in handling entering passengers possibly infected by nCoV.

“Protocols are already in place in the airports where airport frontline personnel have been advised to wear face masks, maintain proper hygiene, and practice regular handwashing. Posting of public advisories informing about coronavirus infections and the strict monitoring of suspected passengers are now also being enforced,” he said.

He added that emergency meetings between the airport security committees, local government units and concerned agencies have also been scheduled to discuss preventive measures and procedures in the event of a detection of the virus in their respective jurisdictions.

The MIAA said it was consulting with the BoQ on the protocols that airline crew must follow in case air passengers get sick during the flight as well as on how to properly disinfect aircraft.

At NAIA Terminal 1, passengers not only from China but all other countries are monitored by thermal scanners BoQ nurses.

The last time thermal scanners were used was during the 2018 Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS CoV) outbreak in several countries.

The airport concourses also have the usual floor mats doused with antiseptics that passengers are required to step on, but this measure is being enforced due to the African swine fever outbreak.

A China Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou arrived around 11 a.m. with many of the Chinese passengers wearing face masks as they lined up at the baggage carousel and the immigration and customs counters.

At the arrival area, not only BoQ staff were also wearing face masks but also personnel from the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Immigration and other government agencies.  There are also posters containing information about the virus and advising passengers on what to do to avoid catching the illness.

Lotis de Guzman, a medical officer from the BoQ, said thermal scanners emit an alert if any passing passenger registers a temperature of 36.5 degrees Celsius or higher.

Such passenger will be isolated and would have his or her temperature taken again by a handheld scanner. The passenger will also undergo a medical examination and his or her travel history would be scrutinized.

De Guzman said if the passenger is confirmed to have a fever, displays respiratory symptoms and there is a strong suspicion that he or she may be infected by nCoV, the passenger would be brought to the designated hospital, which is the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City.

The BoQ will also communicate with the passenger’s airline for the contact-tracing process, wherein the passenger’s seatmates and all other passengers will be advised what the medical procedures that they must undertake.