The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has placed the Port of Subic on heightened alert as part of the measures being taken against the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov), which has spread recently from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
This heightened alert status covers both sea ports and airport in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, which regularly hosts cruise ships plying the Southeast Asian route.
I have personally discussed the Subic situation with Health Secretary Francisco Duque today and confirmed to him that safety protocols are in place at the Port of Subic.
He advised that there is not a need just yet to stop the entry of cruise ships in Subic in view of established safety measures in the Freeport.
He further advised for Subic to be on standby should drastic measures, such as a temporary ban on cruise ships, be deemed necessary.
Effect on Cruise Ship Tourism
As an emerging cruise ship destination in Southeast Asia, Subic expects to be adversely affected by this on-going health emergency.
Due to guidelines from the Chinese government to combat the spread of 2019-nCov, cruise lines that frequent Subic like Costa Crociere, Royal Caribbean and Genting have reportedly suspended cruise operations in mainland China.
Even Genting’s World Dream, which operates from Hong Kong, has reported a huge drop in passenger bookings from the usual 4,000 to just 800 in its scheduled trip to the country on Jan. 29 because of a government-imposed lockdown of the Wuhan region. The lockdown was meant to contain the infections.
According to Dr. Joseph Macaraeg, chief of the Subic Quarantine Station, safety protocols are in place as a matter of procedure even without any health emergency like the 2019-nCov. He said that medical quarantine officers are already on board the cruise ship from the last port of departure before they arrive in Philippine ports and conduct quarantine screening on board.
The SBMA and BOQ also agreed to use the isolation facility at the Subic Bay International Airport (SBIA), which was established during SARS outbreak in 2003, in case of a highly-suspected case of 2019-nCov in Subic.
In such a case, the patient will then be transferred to Jose B. Lingad Hospital in Pampanga (BOQ Referral Hospital) as recommended by the Bureau of Quarantine.
As advised by the Bureau of Quarantine, the SBMA will impose the following measures vis a vis cruise ship arrivals in Subic:1. All boarding authorities should wear face mask upon embarkation; 2. Passengers should wear face mask before disembarking; 3. Only essential staff will be on the dock. There will be no performers or well-wishers; 4. Limit the movement of tourists to within the Freeport only, if possible; 5. Persons who will be in contact with tourists, including bus and taxi drivers, will be advised to wear face mask.
Monitoring and Coordination
As early as January 6, 2020, the SBMA had issued a public health bulletin to Subic Bay Freeport Zone stakeholders after the Department of Health’s Bureau of Quarantine issued an alert on the viral pneumonia that has infected people in Wuhan.
The SBMA continues to coordinate with all concerned, including shipping and airline agencies, cargo handlers and consignees, as well as government agencies like Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, and Philippine Coast Guard.
The SBMA also convened Task Force 2019-nCov on January 22, to discuss frontline safety protocols in coordination with the Bureau of Quarantine. Among other measures, the Task Force thereafter determined to: 1. Make an emergency purchase of personal protection equipment (PPE) and N95 masks; 2. Provide N95 mask to personnel of Port Operations; 3. Expand information campaign through the Agency’s 89.5 Bay FM radio and social media; 4. Coordinate with business locators in installing health advisories in their premises; and 5. Require all locators to inform their employees about 2019-nCov and how to protect themselves and others in the workplace.
ATTY. WILMA T. EISMA – SBMA Chairman and Administrator