Sulu wants to suspend return of Filipinos from Sabah due to new virus variant

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 28 2020 09:39 AM | Updated as of Dec 28 2020 10:50 PM

Sulu wants to suspend return of Filipinos from Sabah due to new virus variant 1
Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Photo courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases‚Äč

MANILA (UPDATE) - Sulu province wants to suspend the return of Filipinos from Sabah after detection of the new COVID-19 variant, its governor said Monday.

President Rodrigo Duterte over the weekend said the local government has asked for assistance after the COVID variant was reported in Sabah. Malaysia and the Philippines both have claims over the territory.

Some 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented Filipinos reside in Sabah, said Governor Abdusakur Tan.

"That is what we’re seeking from national government, especially from IATF to support us on matters of measures we deem appropriate and to intervene and negotiate with the Malaysian government to suspend repatriation of Filipinos, undocumented Filipinos in Sabah," he told ANC's Headstart.

"We have a vast coastline which we can hardly protect so we need government support to bring in more assets. We have a vast sea, the Sulu Sea which extends even beyond the borders of Sabah and Sulu."

The governor added that the province is "able to control travel" as all travel documents are "personally signed" by him.

"This is for the purpose of ensuring that nobody gets in without clearance from us and they should be screened," he said.

"To some people here in the province of Sulu... traveling between the 2 territories is like traveling within one territory. It’s like Sabah and Sulu is one."

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Health Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said one of the instructions from the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 is to apply the same screening protocol for travelers coming into the country unto individuals crossing Sabah and Sulu.

Specimen from positive cases will be sent to the Philippine Genome Center, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, or the University of the Philippines' National Institutes of Health to determine whether it is of the new COVID variant, Vergeire told ANC's Headstart in a separate interview.

The IATF will discuss measures against the new COVID variant in a meeting this Monday, she said.