By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

Just like China, the Philippines last week saw a dramatic rise in the number of suspected coronavirus cases.

From an initial handful the previous week, the number of persons in the Philippines considered as possible carriers of the disease – Filipinos and foreigners alike – rose to 215 last week.

Of these, Health Undersec. Eric Domingo said 184 were hospitalized, nine refused admission, and 17 discharged from hospital but remained under strict monitoring.

The dramatic rise came in the heels of the previous week’s three confirmed cases of coronavirus carriers, all Chinese nationals, one of whom passed away. The three were all from Wuhan province, epicenter of the global epidemic, which the World Health Organization has warned could turn into a pandemic if not controlled properly.

So widespread has the disease become that as far away as the United Arab Emirates, a Filipino was confirmed to have contracted the illness.

Another Filipino, a seaman, was also found to be positive for coronavirus while onboard a cruise ship in Japan. The Filipino was a crewmember of the Diamond Princess, where 537 other Filipino passengers and crew were quarantined.

The most worrisome problem for the Philippines has been the failure to test all the co-passengers of the first confirmed carriers of the disease, who had flown in from Wuhan, China and took either Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific flights to other parts of the country, namely Cebu and Dumaguete, before heading for the capital city of Manila.

Of the 374 co-passengers and crew of the two airlines, plus the scores of other resort and hotel workers who came into close contact with the carriers, more than 200 were unaccounted for because their contact details were reportedly “erroneous.”

The first confirmed carriers were a 44-year-old man and his 39-year old companion. The former became the country’s first fatality while the latter is still confined at the San Lazaro hospital, where she is reportedly recuperating. The remains of the first fatality have since been cremated.

In a related development, the Philippines was able to bring back home via a chartered flight 30 Filipinos who were based in Wuhan but were forced to leave behind a small number who were showing signs of the virus and were thus not allowed to board the flight.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had earlier said there were 56 Filipinos in Wuhan who wanted to return home.

The returnees were set to be taken to New Clark City, where they were to be quarantined for 14 days.

So widespread has been the coronavirus scare in the Philippines that the public had to be warned not to discriminate against foreigners, especially those with Chinese features.

The Commission on Human Rights said, “We must not allow hysteria and paranoia to result in…irrational treatment of people.”

It has gotten so bad that the government has threatened to take punitive action against anyone who spreads unconfirmed information over social media which tends to cause panic among the general populace.

Last week, a man with foreign features collapsed at the corner of Taft Avenue and Pedro Gil in Manila. Bystanders and authorities refused to help him out of fear that he was a carrier of the coronavirus.

The man was later found to be a South Korean who had too much to drink. He eventually apologized for the commotion he caused.

Globally, the number of coronavirus cases has exceeded 34,400 with more than 800 fatalities, mostly in China.

For all intents, China has become isolated with most airlines no longer flying in or out of the most populous country on earth. The ban to and from the People’s Republic of China includes its territories Hong Kong and Macau.