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Aquino wants all Etihad flight passengers contacted by Tuesday - DOH

President Aquino has strongly recommended to the Department of Health (DOH) that all passengers of Etihad Airlines flight EY 0424 which landed in Manila on April 15, 2014 be contacted “within today, Tuesday,” a senior health official said.

The flight had carried the 45-year-old Filipino male nurse, who initially tested positive for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus (MERS-CoV), along with 414 other passengers, the DOH said. Two further tests done by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine later found him negative for the virus.

The nurse underwent laboratory exams in the United Arab Emirates after getting exposed to the Filipino paramedic who died from MERS there two weeks ago, but did not wait for the results to come out before he left for Manila. The DOH decided to quarantine him and his family upon arrival in the country, but they have all been released after the negative results came out.

Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, spokesman of the DOH-led Task Force MERS-CoV, told a news briefing Tuesday that President Aquino “does not want to be caught unaware that there is one case of MERS-Cov in the country.”

He said the task force has the data for all the passengers and the Task Force is using various means, including the setting up of a Facebook account (ey424) and placing advertisements in newspapers with the names of all the passengers that had yet to contact the authorities, to get them tested.

“We have to examine and test all the passengers before we can confirm if there is or there is no MERS-Cov case in the country,” added Lee Suy, who serves as the program manager of the Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases unit of the DOH.

“The strong recommendation by the President is for us to be able to contact and locate all the passengers within today. We are working hard in looking for all of them within today. We are confident we can meet the President’s deadline,” Lee Suy said.

“Hopefully, they will reach out to us,” he added.

Other members of the task force are the Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine Overseas Employment Authority, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, Department of National Defense, Office of Civil Defense, the Department of Transportation and Communications, Presidential Communications Operations Office, People’s Television, Radyo ng Bayan, Philippine Information Agency, and the Philippine News Agency.

Lee Suy refused to give details on how many new passengers they have already contacted, how many have been tested, or even the results of the tests.

“It is up to Malacañang to release specific numbers,” he said.

No connection to Obama visit

Meanwhile, Lee Suy said the urgency in locating the remaining passengers of the Etihad flight who have not yet been tested has no connection to the visit of US President Barack Obama to the Philippines next week.

“The visit of the US President has not come up in any of our meetings. It was never an issue,” he said. Obama is expected to arrive in Manila on Monday for a two-day trip.

Lee Suy said the task force is “more concerned” with preventing the introduction of the MERS-CoV in the country and to “control the possible spread of the virus.”

The DOH said MERS-CoV is a communicable disease that may be passed on to others through close contact with a positive carrier. It has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days and symptoms may include fever, coughing, sneezing, and runny nose two weeks after exposure.

The health department has set up the following hotlines for any queries or information from the public: 711-1001 to 02, 0922-8841564, 0920-9498419 and 0915-7725621. – Ibarra C. Mateo/YA, GMA News