DOH: 379 Filipinos earlier evacuated from virus-hit ship negative for COVID-19

By Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines

Amid concerns over the docking in the country of a coronavirus-hit cruise ship from Australia, the Department of Health said all Filipinos earlier evacuated from the vessel are virus-free and under quarantine.

Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that 379 Filipinos from the Ruby Princess cruise ship tested negative for COVID-19 before they arrived in the country last week. They are now in different quarantine facilities.

“There are no signs and symptoms that have been observed in these 379 crew members who are all quarantined. It is their fifth day now for their quarantine,” Vergeire said.

She said the same strict measures will be implemented as 100 more Filipino crew members of the Ruby Princess are set to arrive in the country. They remained on board to operate the vessel.

“The Bureau of Quarantine officers will be the one managing the evacuees since they are coming from a high-risk area, they are coming from a high-risk ship,” Vergeire said.

She added, however, that the DOH has not received official information on the matter, including when the Ruby Princess will arrive.

Australian media earlier reported that the ship, linked to 21 coronavirus deaths and some 600 infections, sailed out of the Oceania country on April 24. It was quarantined at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, since April 6.

Operators of the Ruby Princess are facing two “high-profile investigations”, Taylor Auerbach, reporter of Seven News Australia, said in a separate interview with CNN Philippines. Officials are looking into possible “criminal negligence” when the management and agencies allowed passengers to disembark in Sydney, despite the fact that others on board showed COVID-19 symptoms.

“This is one of the biggest health disasters in the history of Australia. There’s no doubt about that,” Auerbach said.

The Philippine Coast Guard assured strict implementation of protocols, noting that a total of 21 ships were scheduled to arrive in Manila in April alone, and more are expected next month. PCG spokesperson commodore Armand Balilo said all cruise ships with Filipino crew members will be allowed to dock or anchor in the country.

The entire Luzon is under enhanced community quarantine, restricting people’s movement, but overseas Filipino workers are allowed to return as long as they complete a 14-day quarantine before going back to their homes. The lockdown will be partially eased beginning May 1, except for Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and other so-called high-risk areas which will remain under quarantine until May 15.

The Philippines now has 8,212 COVID-19 cases with 558 deaths and 1,023 recoveries.

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