H1N1 death shuts down Batasan

MANILA, Philippines - The death of a House of Representatives employee due to A(H1N1) has caused a scare at the Batasan complex, forcing Speaker Prospero Nograles to order the closure of the third floor of the Mitra building.

House officials confirmed that the country’s first recorded casualty of the dreaded virus was a House employee, while another has been diagnosed positive for the flu.

Dr. Ramon Ricardo Roque, deputy secretary-general for administration, confirmed the report to stunned House employees who gathered at the North Wing.

The 49-year-old victim worked for the House committee on people’s participation.

Roque’s confirmation that another employee has been tested positive for the virus further shocked the employees, even if some of the workers underwent flu vaccine at the Batasan complex yesterday.

“We have two positive cases of influenza A(H1N1) virus. The one that died as reported in media and a male from the Congressional Planning and Budget Department. Let’s pray for our colleague who passed away,” said Roque, who appealed to media not to reveal the names of the two victims.

He said the woman who died last June 19 was a resident of Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

The second patient, a male who is recuperating at home, works at the Congressional Planning and Budget Department (CPBD).

He said the female victim even attended the seminar of committee affairs department last June 15 and 16, after going to Kalinga province last June 11 to 14.

The male employee just came from MalacaƱang before being tested positive with A(H1N1).

“The two did not go abroad. The female victim had just came from Kalinga while the male victim, who is now doing well in his house, went to MalacaƱang,” he said.

Roque said the Speaker - who is still in Australia - has been apprised of the situation, and that he ordered the suspension of operations of the House until Sunday (June 28). “We will resume operations on Monday (June 29).”

He said experts from the Department of Health (DOH) would help the institution to sanitize all the offices and give its employees time for self-quarantine, particularly those who had direct contact with the victims.

“We will have special treatment to those employees who have engaged the infected ones,” said Roque.

Prior to this, employees were asked by their immediate superiors to vacate the Ramon Mitra Building yesterday morning, which caused a slight panic.

Nograles said he has “already instructed the concerned House officials to coordinate and maintain close coordination with the Department of Health in order to mitigate possible effects on other employees and their families.”

“Our Medical services will spearhead, in coordination with the DOH, all the necessary precautionary steps needed to eliminate further health hazards. This includes the necessary contact tracing of possible victims and their families,” the Speaker said.

Employees of the House of Representatives have been receiving free flu vaccination since Monday, which could be extended to members of their families by next week.

“The employees will all be monitored,” Nograles said in a text message when asked for his instructions amid the recent development.

He said the House medical department “will work this out properly according to standard procedures.”

Senate has no contingency plan

Meanwhile, senators and their staff who have gone abroad are being advised to go on a self-quarantine upon return as a precautionary measure to prevent the further spread of the virus.

“If they are coming from countries where there are incidents of A(H1N1) infection, maybe, they will have to confine themselves in a quarter for three days,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told reporters yesterday.

But Enrile said there is no contingency plan yet for the Senate to address the problem even as the House reported the first death among one of its staff.

“There is no vaccination here yet. I will have to ask the doctor of the Senate whether there’s a need for it,” Enrile said.

Sen. Francis Escudero, who just came from the United States, said he has undergone quarantine because he submitted to a medical check upon his arrival. “There’s a way to find out if you have (the virus),” he said.

Escudero said the government should not just be reactionary but focus on prevention, such as preparing the local entities like the barangay health centers and not just lay responsibility on the DOH.

Sen. Richard Gordon also said the government must be more prepared because at present, it was obvious that the country was not prepared even for mild cases of flu such as A(H1N1).

“If it’s avian flu that hit us, I don’t think the government is adequately prepared for avian flu that is fast and severe. And that time may come. Hopefully, we would be prepared by that time,” he said.

Sen. Loren Legarda said the first death in our country due to the viral infection was a signal that the government could not lower its guard down against the pandemic.

She said the national and local governments can declare an emergency that would give them the power to control the prices of flu medicines until normalcy is restored.

Aside from Escudero, senators who have left or scheduled to go abroad either for official mission or personal vacations include Legarda, Manuel Lapid, Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Jinggoy Estrada, Panfilo Lacson, Gregorio Honasan, Ana Consuelo Madrigal, Francis Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Manuel Villar Jr. and Juan Miguel Zubiri.



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