Authorities in the northern Philippines raided a villa housing an unauthorized COVID-19 clinic and arrested two Chinese nationals who were operating it, police said Wednesday.
Ling Hu, 45, the apparent owner of the outfit, and pharmacist Seung-Hyun Lee, 38, were taken into custody Tuesday while allegedly operating the clinic at the Fontana Leisure Park inside the government-operated Clark Freeport Zone in the town of Mabalacat.
Police said they confiscated Chinese-labeled medicines used on COVID-19 patients, but did not identify the medicines.
“Their patients were Chinese nationals,” local police commander Brig. Gen. Rhoderick Armamento told reporters, adding that he sent officers to track them down.
“Their patients thought they were already treated at the hospital, but they may be spreading the virus,” he said.
Regional police commander Col. Amante Daro said the suspects would face criminal charges, but did not elaborate.
“The place was operating as a health facility and pharmacy with Chinese-labeled medicine catering to the services of Chinese nationals,” he said.
More than 200 suspected coronavirus rapid test kits and syringes were recovered from trash cans at the villa, the Associated Press reported.
Armamento said the two suspects were not permitted to operate a medical facility in the Philippines, adding that officers were checking their immigration status.
The area is a known destination for illegal Chinese workers who end up working inside online casinos that cater to Chinese clients.
Statistics from the immigration bureau show that as of last year, more than 200,000 Chinese nationals were working in the country, many of them employed by Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators. Since September 2019, Philippine authorities have arrested and deported nearly 1,000 Chinese nationals illegally employed in online casinos in Manila and in Clark, officials said.
The state-owned Clark Development Corp., which runs the economic zone, said it ordered the closure and full lockdown of Fontana Leisure Park following the raid.
“This illegal activity not only violates the law, but also poses danger to individuals who potentially need medical treatment for the deadly disease,” it said. “CDS does not and will not tolerate this inside the Clark Freeport.”
In April, military chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos caused a diplomatic stir when he sought assistance from the Chinese Embassy to procure the Chinese-developed anti-COVID-19 drug known as Carrimycin.
Santos, who said the drug helped him recover, subsequently apologized and withdrew his letter after learning that the drug had not been approved in the Philippines.
At a Wednesday Senate hearing on the government response to COVID-19, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the country was on its “second wave” of infections.
“The first wave based on our epidemiologist happened sometime in January. It’s the time when we have three Chinese nationals from Wuhan infected by the virus. It’s just small,” Duque said.
“But now we are on second wave and we are doing all we can to flatten the epidemic curve,” he said.
During a cabinet meeting that stretched past midnight Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he would re-impose a total lockdown if infections continued to rise.
The government relaxed quarantine rules on Saturday in many parts of the Luzon island, home to the capital city Manila and 60 million people, triggering a commotion in some malls by shoppers eager to go out after two months of being cooped up at home.
“If we will go back to the situation before, if the contamination will be as fast as before and it will continue to infect those who are already allowed to go outside, then we’ll have to just go back to the original program,” Duterte said.
On Wednesday, health officials announced seven new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the national toll to 844, and 205 new infections, for a cumulative caseload of 13,147.
Around the world, more than 4.9 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 324,000 have died as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.