Philippines stops visa issuance as COVID-19 cases rise

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 19 2020 04:46 PM | Updated as of Mar 19 2020 09:35 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines will suspend the issuance of visas, a move that will prohibit the entry of foreigners to the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), its top diplomat said Thursday.

"Starting today, all our embassies and consulates will temporarily suspend visa issuance to all foreign nationals, as well as visa-free entry privileges to all foreign nationals," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. posted on his official Twitter account.

All previously issued Philippines visas to foreign nationals are deemed canceled while visas issued to foreign spouses and children of Filipino nationals remain valid, he said.

Halting visas on arrival for foreigners is up to the Bureau of Immigration (BI), Locsin said in a separate tweet.

“What I just signed is stopping the issuance of visas in all our foreign posts and here, and no visas upon arrival above all but that’s BI,” he wrote.

The foreign affairs chief earlier said he would have to consult the Department of Tourism (DOT) on suspending visa issuance.

"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 early February, the tourism ministry reported P10 billion in losses. That was before COVID-19 began to spread quickly in countries other than China.

The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that the deadly coronavirus outbreak would cost world tourism at least $22 billion owing to a drop in spending by Chinese tourists.

Foreigners from more than 100 countries are allowed to enter the Philippines visa-free for 30 days or less.

Holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) passports and the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) passports are allowed to travel to the Philippines without a visa for a stay not exceeding 14 days.

In January, the Philippine government suspended the issuance of visa on arrival for Chinese citizens due to the threat of the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan City in Hubei province.

As of March 14, travel restrictions were imposed on travelers from 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.

As of Thursday, the Philippines has tallied 217 coronavirus infections, including 17 deaths and 8 recoveries. - With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News