3 Filipinos quarantined in HK against A-H1N1 flu virus reported in good health

May 6, 2009 3:19 am 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, May 5 –As the Philippines prepares to chair a Bangkok meeting of Southeast Asian health ministers’ meeting on Friday, May 8, regarding the A-H1N1 influenza strain, reports had reached the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of three Filipinos being quarantined in Hong Kong as a precautionary measure against the possibly pandemic virus.

Philippine Health Secretary Duque presides over the meeting of the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that would plot out the “region’s collective response to the A-strain H1N1 virus, formerly mistakenly called the “swine flu,” the DFA said.

The Philippines currently heads the ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting, (AHMM), wherein members “raised their alert levels and put in place precautionary measures to address the outbreak.”

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan also announced that ASEAN’s Plus Three dialogue partners–China, Japan, and South Korea-were invited to the meeting.

The meeting will also help prepare for the 62nd Annual World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva from May 18 to 27. DFA said the AHMM may also explore the need to convene the 1st East Asia Health Ministers Meeting on A-H1N1.

While the Philippines has yet to report of A-H1N1 cases in its shores, the Philippine consulate-general in Hong Kong confirmed that a Filipino woman and her Australian husband and their son, and still another Filipino woman from Cebu, were among the latest group of foreigners isolated by the authorities in Hong Kong.

They are all temporary visitors to Hong Kong and are billeted at the Metropark Hotel in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong. Their seven-day quarantine ends on Friday. The hotel has no Filipino workers.

The Filipinos are reportedly in good health, the DFA said.

Hong Kong Consul-General Claro Cristobal reminds Filipinos in Hong Kong to immediately call the 24-hour hotline of the Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection (2125-1111) or the consulate ( 915-54023) when they detect the onset of flu-like symptoms or simply to inquire about the not-totally known virus.

There have been no further reports of A-H1N1 cases in Hong Kong, but Filipinos there as well as those in the United Kingdom and Ireland and South Korea have been advised by Philippine authorities in the area not to take chances and adopt measures against the dreaded flu virus.

There are an estimated 150,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong, 200,000 in the United Kingdom, 12,000 in Ireland and 50,000 in South Korea.

As of May 3, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 15 cases of A-H1N1 in the United Kingdom and one in Ireland. The Philippine Nurses Association of UK, the largest organization of Filipino nurses in the United Kingdom, helps with the information campaign against the virus outbreak.

Filipino healthcare workers were specifically asked to take extra precautions.

“The Embassy in London noted that the nurses and caregivers are among the most vulnerable to possible infection as they are exposed to the virus and their resistance levels may not be strong because of long work hours. They need to take care of themselves as they take care of others,” ambassador to the UK, Edgardo B. Espiritu, said.

In South Korea, where at least two non-Filipino cases of transmission have been reported, the 50,000-strong Filipino community was urged to be careful and Ambassador Luis Cruz has ordered continuous monitoring of developments related to A-H1N1.

While no A-H1N1 cases have been reported in ASEAN member-States, measures have been put in place such as screening of arrivals from affected countries using thermal scanners and health declaration forms.

ASEAN has created a system to draw from the stockpile in case a pandemic erupts. With Japan’s cooperation, ASEAN has stockpiled 500,000 courses of antivirals (Tamiflu and Relenza) in Singapore and an additional 500,000 courses distributed to ASEAN member states, the DFA reported.

ASEAN health experts have “stressed that harmonizing measures and initiatives is essential in the region’s efforts to respond to the current outbreak of A-H1N1” during a teleconference organized by the ASEAN Secretariat on April 30. They agreed that regular sharing of information is helpful.

The ASEAN Secretariat has also established a Coordinating Centre to monitor developments related to A-H1N1 in the region. The Centre would monitor and collate information on situational updates and precautionary measures undertaken by the ASEAN member states.

Also, ASEAN, together with the World Health Organization, held exercises in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to familiarize regional health officials and to ensure a most direct and efficient delivery of Tamiflu and Relenza to the requesting countries.

Tamiflu and Relenza can be used to treat symptoms of swine influenza and to prevent disease among those who are infected or exposed to the virus.

The ASEAN Secretariat is on 24/7 full alert to anticipate any request for the antiviral drugs by the member-States.

ASEAN public health officials are also looking at the possibility of discussing the issue of A-H1N1 with the Atlanta-based US Center for Disease Control. Pitsuwan is discussing the matter with the newly-designated U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, Scott Marciel. (PNA)

LAP/GJB

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