MANILA — The Philippines is adding Indonesia to a travel ban that aims to keep out the more infectious Delta COVID-19 variant driving a surge in coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the suspension of the entry of travelers from Indonesia "beginning 12:01 a.m. of July 16, 2021 until 11:59 p.m. of July 31, 2021." said his spokesman Harry Roque.
This restriction covers "those with travel history to Indonesia within the last fourteen (14) days preceding arrival in the Philippines," he said in a statement.
Passengers from Indonesia who arrive before 12:01 a.m. of July 16, 2021 "may still be allowed to enter the country but will be required to undergo a full 14-day facility quarantine notwithstanding a negative Reverse Transcription - Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) result," said the Palace official.
"This action is undertaken to prevent the further spread and community transmission of COVID-19 variants in the Philippines," he added.
The Philippines previously suspended the entry of travelers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, and Oman— which have all detected the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant.
The restriction is extended until July 31, Malacañang said earlier Wednesday.
Indonesia has also recorded local cases of the Delta variant. The nation is struggling to slow the pace of COVID-19 transmission, with record daily case numbers on 6 of the past 10 days, including 47,899 new infections on Tuesday, despite new containment measures.
The Philippines has detected among inbound travelers 19 cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant that originated from India, where it unleashed a catastrophic surge in coronavirus infections.
Governments in Southeast Asia are tightening measures, hoping targeted lockdowns will act as circuit-breakers in arresting record jumps in cases and deaths that started rising in May.
Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, said the region was struggling to cope with the Delta variant and paying for inconsistencies in strategy, messaging, and enforcement of protocols.
He cited the need to broaden the range of vaccines, noting the dominance of China's Sinovac vaccine, owing to its vaccine diplomacy when Western brands were unavailable.
"In handling the pandemic at a bigger scale ... vaccines can't stand alone," he said. "Vaccines need to be diversified. Resources need to be diversified."
Indonesia and Thailand on Friday said booster shots with mRNA vaccines would be administered to health workers - most of which were given Chinese vaccines like Sinovac - amid concerns about their resistance to variants.
Thailand said the Pfizer and BioNTech shot would be given to its medical workers, while Indonesia said Moderna vaccines would soon arrive for use among health staff.
Singapore is among the few bright spots in Southeast Asia, with authorities to soon ease restrictions imposed when the Delta variant was detected, and complete the immunization of half of the population later this month.
Alex Cook at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said the city-state was an exception, with its neighbors far behind.
"This shows the need to redouble global efforts at fair vaccine deployment to ensure higher risk individuals in lower income countries can also be protected," he said.
Sinovac jabs make up the bulk of the Philippine coronavirus vaccine supply.
Filipino experts are studying the use of mRNA booster shots, the health department said on Monday. The Philippines has fully vaccinated at least 3.8 million of its 58 to 70 million target population this year.
With more than 1.47 million infections and over 5,200 deaths, the Philippines has one of the highest coronavirus caseloads in Asia.
— With a report from Reuters