PH imposes travel ban on China as new coronavirus infections rise globally

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 02 2020 09:31 AM | Updated as of Feb 02 2020 11:52 PM

Passengers arriving at the NAIA Terminal 1 in Parañaque City wear face masks as a precaution on January 23, 2020, as the country raises the alert to prevent the spread of an undetermined strain of the coronavirus originating from Wuhan, China. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (7th UPDATE) - The Philippines expanded its temporary travel ban on the whole of China and its territories, Malacañang said Sunday, as Manila recorded the first new coronavirus-related death outside the country of its origin.

The ban covers all foreigners arriving from China, Hong Kong and Macau, including those who visited these areas within 14 days, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said in a statement.

Filipino citizens and those who hold a permanent resident visa issued by the Philippine government may enter the country but will undergo a 14-day quarantine, he added.

Medialdea said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is "given the authority, if necessary, to ban the entry of travelers from other areas with confirmed widespread 2019-nCoV ARD." ARD stands for acute respiratory disease.

Travel from the Philippines to China and its territories will also be prohibited temporarily, he added.

Civil Aeronautics Board executive director Carmelo Arcilla also said the ban covers flights directly and indirectly coming from China.

"Those coming from China will not be allowed to come here, because of the travel ban, and even those who are not directly coming from China, but for example, they come from Shanghai and they traveled to Bangkok, and traveled to the Philippines, they are also subject to the ban," he explained.

Travelers of any nationality, except Filipino citizens and holders of a permanent resident visa issued by the Philippines, who have been to China within 14 days prior to arrival to the Philippines, will also be denied entry to the country.

The government will establish a repatriation and quarantine facility as some Filipinos are set to be brought home from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

President Rodrigo Duterte "immediately" approved the recommended guidelines of the task force following the World Health Organization's declaration of the outbreak as a global health emergency, Medialdea said.

"We again call for the public to cooperate with the government, follow the procedures put into place, and to remain calm and rational," Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.

"More importantly, we ask them to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus by following the precautionary measures prescribed by the DOH such as washing their hands regularly and wearing surgical masks in crowded areas."

The Bureau of Immigration also announced the implementation of the expanded travel ban for foreigners from China and its Special Administrative Regions.

The ban earlier covered only those traveling from Hubei province.

“We have immediately implemented the expanded travel ban, hence all foreign nationals, regardless of their nationality, who will be coming from China and its Special Administrative Regions shall be turned back and not allowed to enter the Philippines," Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement.

“We urge everyone to temporarily refrain from unnecessary travel, and to bear with the government as we implement this measure.”

The Mactan-Cebu International Airport, in a statement, said it is already coordinating with relevant agencies as it implements the temporary travel ban.

"GMR MEGAWIDE Cebu Airport Corporation (GMCAC) and the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA), together with the Bureaus of Immigration and Quarantine, are working to ensure that all airlines operating direct international flights into Cebu from China, Hong Kong, and Macau are aware of the new directive and take appropriate action to minimize disruption to its inbound and outbound flights," it said in a statement.

MCIA urged its passengers to coordinate with their respective airlines regarding flight schedules and rebookings.

Duterte ordered last Friday a ban on travelers from China's Hubei province, of which Wuhan is a part, following the first confirmed 2019-nCoV case in the country. The initial order also covered other places in China where there is a spread of the disease.

On Sunday, health authorities said the Philippines has already recorded two confirmed 2019-nCoV cases, the second of whom died on Saturday.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO Representative in the Philippines, said it is the first new coronavirus-related death outside of China.

Health officials, meanwhile, are awaiting the test results of 4 persons suspected of carrying the disease, while 30 others have already tested negative, Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo added.

Airlines operating between China and the Philippines have also either canceled or limited their flights between the two countries.

Passengers with flights to and from China are urged to check airline websites for advisories and coordinate with their travel agency for proper guidance, the Manila International Airport Authority said in a statement.

Some 1.25 million Chinese tourists arrived in the country in 2018, making China the second-largest tourism market for the Philippines, next to South Korea.

Last year, more than 1.6 million visitors from China were recorded from January to November, data from the Department of Tourism showed.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the agency's foreign offices in China have been advised to relay the temporary travel ban to all stakeholders there.

"The safety and protection of our citizens thriving in our tourist spots, the employees of the tourism sector, and domestic and foreign tourists alike remain the Department of Tourism's priority," Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.

"We call on everyone in the tourism industry to follow these directives until the World Health Organization and the Philippine government deems it safe to resume travel," she said.

In an interview on radio DZMM, Romulo-Puyat said the precautionary measure is also being coordinated with the Tourism Congress of the Philippines.