DOH waits for risk assessment before backing total travel ban to China

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2020 09:50 AM | Updated as of Jan 31 2020 10:04 AM

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MANILA - The country's top health official on Friday said they will wait for the latest risk assessment from the World Health Organization before pushing for a total ban on travelers coming from mainland China.

For now, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the travel restriction is only for travelers coming from Hubei province. 

"I strongly recommended that a temporary restriction of travelers going to Manila from Hubei province, China within the possibility that as soon as we get the risk assessment by the WHO that many other provinces are in fact reporting, increasing numbers of novel coronavirus infection, we will include them in the travel restrictions," Duque said.

On ANC's Headstart, Duque said President Rodrigo Duterte has already approved the recommendation.

Duque earlier said banning tourists from mainland China may cause repercussions since it is not the only country with confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV.

He said China might question why the Philippines is not doing the same for all the other countries with reported confirmed cases of nCoV.

Wuhan City in Hubei, China is the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. The Chinese city has been on lockdown since earlier this month in a bid to contain the virus.

The WHO on Thursday has declared a global health emergency as the outbreak has claimed the lives of 170 people in China with cases reported in 18 countries, including the Philippines.

The Philippines registered its first confirmed case after a female traveler from Wuhan tested positive for the virus. The 38-year old woman arrived in Manila via Hong Kong on Jan. 21 and sought medical check four days later.

Health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon earlier said a total travel ban on China is important in containing the spread of the virus.

Leachon stressed that one patient with confirmed 2019-nCoV can create a problem since the virus has a multiplier effect.

He cited that a patient infected with the virus could still go to the Philippines from another province or city in China, making contact tracing difficult.

Duque said it was possible that more Chinese provinces may be included in the travel restrictions but added that there are already other countries too that have declared cases of the virus. 

"Are we going to create an island for each country inward and close everything? What are we going to do with the countries that have already confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus?" said Duque.

He said he would rather defer to what the experts say on the matter.

“We might as well count ourselves with those countries. Meron na rin tayo. We’ll see what the experts tell us,” he said.

Several lawmakers have also called on the government to impose a ban on travel to and from China.

In Cebu, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said travelers from China would be placed on a 14-day quarantine to contain the spread of the virus.

Novel coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties, according to the World Health Organization.