Philippine officials slammed for breach as they visit troops under Ebola quarantine

The Philippines' top health and military officials were under fire on Tuesday for visiting Filipino United Nations troops undergoing quarantine after serving in Ebola-ravaged Liberia. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The Philippines' top health and military officials were under fire on Tuesday for visiting Filipino United Nations troops undergoing quarantine after serving in Ebola-ravaged Liberia. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines' top health and military officials were under fire on Tuesday for visiting Filipino United Nations troops undergoing quarantine after serving in Ebola-ravaged Liberia.

More than 100 soldiers and police officers were confined for 21 days on an island at the mouth of Manila Bay last week, part of measures meant to ensure the Asian country remained free from the deadly Ebola virus.

However, armed forces chief General Gregorio Catapang and Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin then apparently violated the government's own protocols with a visit to the island over the weekend, said Philippine College of Physicians president Anthony Leachon.

"It was a breach of protocol - quarantine is an enforced isolation during the 21-day incubation period" of the virus, Dr Leachon, who leads the country's 9,000-plus internal medicine specialists, told AFP. "It might send the wrong signal."

Politicians and netizens also criticised the two officials for the visit, in which neither wore protective gear. The general was shown on television engaging in elbow bumps with the quarantined peacekeepers.

"Overflowing supply of stupidity in the government," tweeted user #leonjalmasco.

"What dorks. Put them on quarantine," wrote another Twitter user called #violettiramisu.

President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma on Tuesday said the visit did not violate any World Health Organisation protocols.

Neither Ms Garin nor the health department spokesman responded to requests for comment.

"We visited them to check on their condition as well as to boost their morale... It is important to make the point that people should not be leery of them," Ms Garin told local news agency GMA in an earlier interview.

She said protective clothing was unnecessary since the peacekeepers were not showing symptoms of the virus.

Gen Catapang said he visited the island at Garin's invitation "to show the armed forces that the soldiers are safe as of now, and also (assure) the entire country that there is nothing to worry about".

"We did not break any health protocol," he told reporters, adding that the quarantine will continue.

The nearly year-old epidemic has killed more than 5,000 people and infected about 14,500, mostly in West Africa.

More than 10 million Filipinos work abroad, putting the country under potential threat.

As part of its protective measures, anyone coming from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - the countries worst affected with the epidemic - must undergo quarantine.