by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.
THE Chief Executives of Olongapo City and Subic Town, both bordering the Subic Bay Freeport has appealed to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to temporarily suspend “accepting” cruise ships until the threat of the 2019 Novel Corona Virus (2019-nCoV) has been “totally managed and controlled.”
The Cruise Ship MV World Dream, a regular visitor of Subic Bay, is set to dock in Subic tomorrow after visiting Manila today. It carries around 778 passengers, including Chinese nationals.
The dreaded virus has been confirmed to have originated from Wuhan City, capital of Central China’s Hubei province.
“We write your good office regarding the cruise ship situation amidst the threat of the 2019 Novel Corona Virus,” Olongapo City Mayor Rolen C. Paulino, Jr. said in a letter to SBMA Chair & Administrator Wilma T. Eisma today.
Also today, Mayor Jon F. Khonghun of Subic Town, north of the Freeport, said in his letter “we are appealing to your good office to temporarily stop accepting cruise ships which are bound to enter the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.”
Khonghun urged the SBMA “to be more cautious giving priority to the health and safety of our people.”
Paulino, for his part, said “Let us please err in the side of caution and put primacy in the health and safety of the residents and workers of SBFZ and the city and municipalities surrounding it.”
Amid the hysteria surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus from China to other countries in Asia, Eisma appealed to stakeholders for sobriety as the cruise ship MV Word Dream is set to dock in Subic tomorrow.
Eisma said in a statement that the Department of Health (DOH) is confident that the multi-layer protocols in place are enough to ensure the safety of host communities that cruise ship passengers visit during their tour.
“I call on everyone to keep calm and take necessary precautions,” Eisma said. “I have been coordinating with Health Secretary Francisco Duque on the matter and the DOH said it’s confident that the quadruple safety procedures in place are enough, so let’s trust the DOH on this issue.”
However, she said the Subic agency is also open to suggestions from local stakeholders on how to address the nCov problem.
“If you feel there is a need for the DOH to reverse its position, then we have to unify our call. We have to decide on this as a team,” she added.
Eisma sounded the appeal as some quarters from the various sectors in the Freeport and outlying communities expressed opposition to the scheduled visit of the cruise ship MV World Dream because of the ongoing nCoV health emergency.
The ship arrived in Manila on Today with a total of 778 passengers, and authorities said passengers, who were seen wearing masks, were allowed to disembark at around 11:30 a.m.
MV World Dream, which is one of the frequent visitors to Subic in the last two years, usually carried more than 3,000 passengers on a trip but had reportedly skipped picking up the majority of its bookings from Guangzhou, a port city northwest of Hong Kong and located further inland, because of a government lockdown at the Wuhan area, the epicentre of the infections.
Eisma said the multi-layered safety protocol imposed by the DOH involved the quarantine of cruise ship passengers upon entry and exit at their last port of call in Hong Kong, during the trip to Manila when they were processed again by personnel of DOH-Bureau of Quarantine who were aboard the ship, and again when they arrived in Manila before they were allowed to disembark.
“The same procedure will be repeated in Subic where the passengers will be heavily guarded when they would be allowed to leave the ship,” she added.
Eisma also noted that Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo had clarified in a press conference at Malacañang on Tuesday that there would be no basis to stop a cruise ship from entering the Subic Bay Freeport if there was no one afflicted by the virus among the passengers.
Eisma said the SBMA has placed the Port of Subic on heightened alert as early as January 6, after the Department of Health’s Bureau of Quarantine issued an alert on the viral pneumonia that has infected people in Wuhan. This heightened alert status covered both sea ports and airport in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
Eisma said she had personally discussed the Subic situation with Secretary Duque last Monday and was advised that there was not a need just yet to stop the entry of cruise ships in Subic.
But Duque further advised Subic to be on standby should drastic measures, such as a temporary ban on cruise ships, be deemed necessary, she said.
Eisma said the SBMA will continue to coordinate with all concerned parties, including local residents, Freeport locators, and government agencies on how Subic would best address the nCoV emergency.
“This is something that affects our own community, so we have to wisely decide what’s best for it,” Eisma said.