MANILA - The Philippines' health chief on Thursday said he was "strongly" recommending banning travelers from Hubei province in China, the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, as he confirmed the country’s first case.
“That is why I strongly recommend to the task force, the emerging infectious disease task force…a temporary restriction of travelers from the entire Hubei province of China,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during a press conference.
Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in eastern China, is the origin of the 2019-nCoV outbreak, and has been on lockdown since earlier this month in a bid to contain the virus.
Restrictions have also been enforced in other parts of Hubei, as several deaths from the virus have been confirmed there.
Duque's statement came as he confirmed that a female traveler from Wuhan tested positive for the 2019-nCoV. The 38-year-old woman had come to Manila via Hong Kong on Jan. 21 and sought medical check four days later.
While she is no longer showing symptoms of the illness, she is still confined at an undisclosed government hospital in Metro Manila.
Authorities are tracing people who may have been exposed to her, as she also traveled to the cities of Cebu and Dumaguete.
The health chief said it was possible that he would recommend more provinces in China to be included in the travel restrictions for the Philippines.
Of the 8,000 people infected by the new strain of coronavirus, majority are in China, but cases have also been reported in various countries in Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. The number of fatalities has also increased to at least 170.
“It could expand the number or increase the number of places depending on the assessment that is going to be done by the WHO (World Health Organization),” Duque said of the travel restrictions.
Duque said they would await the assessment of the WHO on “whether to add to the list some more places with a relatively higher burden of nCoV infection.”
The Philippines earlier suspended flights to and from Wuhan. The immigration bureau has also halted, for the meantime, the issuance of visas upon arrival for Chinese travelers.
World Health Organization (WHO) country representative for the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said at the same press conference that the WHO’s Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus will reconvene on Thursday evening because of the spread of the virus outside China.
He said the committee might discuss restrictions based on what will be discussed among member states.
“What those restrictions are, we cannot tell,” he said, explaining it would depend on the discussion during the meeting.
Duque had earlier said there would be no need for the country to close its doors on tourists from mainland China. Duque assured the public that the country’s quarantine officers are well-equipped to ensure that those showing signs of the infection are isolated and treated.