32 Filipinos now home from Wuhan

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Photo of Filipinos from Wuhan courtesy of DFA Philippines.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 9) — A total of 32 Filipinos who sought to return to the Philippines arrived at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga early Sunday morning from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak.

Members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and five medical personnel – two doctors, two nurses and one medical technologist – from the Department of Health left Saturday evening on a chartered flight to fetch Filipinos at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport.

CNN Philippines is still getting further details on the remaining Filipinos who also expressed wish to get back to the country, as government agencies earlier reported that they were supposed to fetch 36 of them. An earlier report from the DOH said 30 Filipinos arrived home — 29 adults and one infant.

The DOH said Filipinos coming home from Wuhan were screened before being allowed on the plane: first to see whether they were symptomatic (with fever, cough and cold) or asymptomatic (without any signs or symptoms). Only those who were asymptomatic were allowed on board.

If any of the Filipinos had gotten sick while on board or during the flight, they would have been moved to the back of the plane away from those passengers not showing any symptoms. Upon arrival, they would have been assessed once more, and should it be again determined they were symptomatic, they would have been taken to hospitals via ambulance instead of heading to the quarantine facility.

As all 32 Filipinos were without any signs and symptoms, they were all brought to New Clark City, Tarlac where they will be quarantined for the next 14 days. The repatriation team and the flight crew are understood to also go through mandatory quarantine.

Earlier, DFA officials said there were over 50 Filipinos who indicated interest in being evacuated from Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. However, before the team left for China, DFA reported that some Filipinos opted to remain there to continue working, while others encountered problems with their visas and immigration status.

READ: PH officials, flight crew on board Hubei repatriation flight to be quarantined

DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said they may schedule another flight for remaining Filipinos in Hubei if more of them decide to return to the Philippines.

The Athlete's Village in New Clark City was built in 2019 for the 30th Southeast Asian Games. Each of them will have their own room with amenities such as an air conditioning unit, private bathroom and a television set. DOH Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo said they will be served three meals a day and will be given time to "breathe fresh air." The New Clark City was put on a lockdown.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque earlier said some agencies have also been tasked with disinfecting the luggage brought by the evacuated Filipinos and the vehicles used to transport them.

Capas mayor clarifies stand on evacuees' stay in NCC

Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan clarified in a statement Sunday that he was not against the repatriation of Filipinos from Wuhan, but was concerned about them using the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac as quarantine zone.

READ: Tarlac town opposes use of New Clark City as coronavirus quarantine site

"I feel perturbed by the fact that Department of Health (DOH) did not at all, in any way, involve the Capas LGU in its last-minute decision for New Clark City Capas to be used as quarantine zone for these Persons under Monitoring," it read.

Catacutan also said that his initial statement was "not a final stand."

"Bilang ama ng Capas na malayo sa kanila, I initially reacted dahil nag cause po ng panic ang biglaang balita na sa New Clark City dadalhin ang mga repatriated Filipinos na under monitoring. We were blindsided."

[Translation: As a father to the town of Capas, I initially reacted because bringing the repatriated Filipinos who are under monitoring to New Clark City caused panic. We were blindsided.]

Despite opposition from the town, the returning Filipinos were still brought to New Clark City and Catacutan expressed his support this time.

"Now that the national government has finally decided to use the Athletes Village in Capas as the quarantine area for our returning kababayans, Capas can only move forward and throw its all-out-support to this nationally-led endeavour."

In a statement Sunday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the safety of Filipinos is the primary concern of the government. He said authorities are "closely coordinating with the members of the Filipino communities in countries where there are confirmed cases of the 2019 NCoV, and they can rest assured that the Philippine Government is ever ready to provide whatever assistance necessary to protect their welfare."

He said they were also working with the DOH to help local officals and put people's fears to rest to fight the virus.

"All protocols and health measures to neutralize this deadly virus have been put in place and are being implemented to secure the safety of our countrymen," the statement said.