MANILA (UPDATED) - Several senators on Thursday urged Malacañang to "immediately" impose a ban on individuals traveling from China.
This as a Chinese woman became the first confirmed case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the country. The 38-year-old patient from Wuhan, China had arrived in Manila via Hong Kong on Jan. 21.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the government should impose a 30-day ban on both air and sea travel from China.
"This temporary travel ban will give time for our health authorities to set in place all safeguards necessary in case there are more confirmation of the 2019-nCoV presence in the country from those under present surveillance," she said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said putting a "temporary Great Wall" against Chinese travelers will "stave off the spread of the virus."
"There is no hint of racism or xenophobia in this policy," Recto said.
"This is an assertion of the national wellbeing and an acceptance of the fact that our defenses and capacity to respond to a health emergency is not that strong," he said.
"When China sneezes, we get pneumonia. If that is the case, then an ounce of border control is worth a ton of cure."
Sen. Joel Villanueva also called for travel restrictions to and from China amid the confirmed case in the Philippines.
"We appeal to our government to impose travel restrictions to and from China. With the news that the country has recorded the first case of the nCoV this afternoon, the government must prioritize the safety and security of our people over other considerations," he said in a statement.
He said Filipino migrants who are set to fly to China to either start work or return to their jobs there should "postpone their trips there indefinitely to minimize the risk of being infected with the virus."
"For OFWs stranded in the quarantined areas, please follow the health protocol being observed in the area. Help our diplomatic staff there by notifying your status so that every Filipino is accounted for," he said.
The government now has to "seriously consider" imposing the travel ban to and from China to keep confirmed 2019-nCoV cases in the Philippines as few as possible, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian told ABS-CBN News in a chance interview.
"It's about time to seriously consider it. Itong case na ito kasi (this case) is a Chinese coming to our country," he said.
Graduations and other big gatherings in Chinese schools and other learning institutions with a "high population of students from China" should also be "suspended immediately," said Gatchalian who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
"The probability of them carrying the virus is very high," he said.
In a statement early Friday, Sen. Bong Go said President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to implement a temporary travel ban on all flights from Wuhan City and the Hubei province in China.
"The President and concerned government officials are also studying the possibility of imposing temporary travel restrictions for those coming from other places affected by the infection," he said.
A meeting has been scheduled by the president next week with medical experts and key government officials to discuss all necessary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Go added.
"Rest assured that the Duterte administration takes this threat seriously. I am appealing to the public to cooperate with authorities in order to ensure the safety of everyone," he said.
Duterte earlier said he was not keen on imposing a travel ban against Chinese travelers, but said health officials are "preparing for the worst" as the virus has already infected nearly 6,000 people worldwide.
The Philippines earlier suspended flights to and from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak. The immigration bureau has also halted, for the meantime, the issuance of visas upon arrival for Chinese travelers.
Also on Thursday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he would "strongly recommend" a travel ban covering Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.
Several 2019-nCoV have died in the eastern Chinese province and local authorities have enforced transport restrictions there.
The Philippines is monitoring at least 23 other patients who are suspected of carrying the 2019-nCoV, Duque said.
The public is advised to "remain vigilant at all times" and to "practice good personal hygiene, and indeed adopt healthy lifestyles," he said.