MANILA - The Philippines is considering the suspension of visa issuances as large parts of it are under lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to the country's top diplomat.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is also considering halting visa-free travel afforded to foreigners, except for travelers in Southeast Asia, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.
"DFA considering suspension of visa free privilege except for ASEAN. Also stopping visa issuance worldwide during period of lockdown," he wrote on his official Twitter account.
"And no more visa upon arrival even if we stamp passports with DFA stamp showing most of South China Sea and Pacific up to Guam as Philippine territory," Locsin added.
Before implementing such move, he said he would have to consult the Department of Tourism (DOT).
"Before @DFAPHL even begins to consider suspending the issuance of visas in all or some of our foreign posts, I will ask Tourism Secretary Berna (Romulo-Puyat) first what she thinks of it because it is her sector that keeps taking a beating so she should always be consulted first," Locsin wrote in a separate tweet Thursday.
More than 100 countries are allowed to enter the Philippines visa-free for a period of stay of 30 days or less.
With the enhanced community quarantine imposed over Luzon, several flights have already been canceled; inbound flights throughout the quarantine period will be limited for the repatriation of Filipinos overseas; travel of diplomats and uniformed personnel for official business, especially those transporting medical supplies, laboratory specimens related to the COVID-19, and other humanitarian assistance, however, are exempted from restrictions.
For outbound flights, overseas Filipino workers, balikbayans, and foreigners intending to depart the Philippines from Luzon are allowed to leave at any time during the enhanced community quarantine period provided that proof of international travel itinerary scheduled within 24 hours must be presented.
Holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative (SAR) passports and the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) passports are allowed to travel the Philippines without a visa for a stay not exceeding 14 days. There is however a standing ban due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In January, the Philippine government temporarily suspended issuance of visa on arrival for Chinese citizens due to the threat of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan City in Hubei province, China.
As of March 14, travel restrictions were imposed in China and its special administrative regions, except for Filipinos and their spouse or children, foreigners with permanent resident visas, and members of the diplomatic corps.
To date, the Philippines has tallied 217 coronavirus infections, including 17 deaths and 8 recoveries. - With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News