Bello wants travel ban lifted for OFWs returning to Taiwan

MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III wants the Duterte administration's travel ban on Taiwan, which was imposed due to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), to be lifted for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who wish to return there.

Though confident that the ban will be lifted soon, Bello said on Thursday, February 13, that he has asked the Department of Health (DOH) to exempt OFWs bound for Taiwan.

The DOH leads the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and, along with agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, decides on matters like travel restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of 2019-nCoV.

"For those who are affected by the travel ban in Taiwan, we ask for your patience, and in a few days, there will be a review," Bello said.

"We are seeking understanding from our OFWs because the implementation of a temporary ban by the DOH is for your own safety as well. We hope for a possible lifting of the ban in a few days."

In the meantime, the labor department will provide P10,000 in financial aid to OFWs stranded in the Philippines. It will also help OFWs with accommodation and transportation.

So far, the ban is in place for travelers to and from mainland China, its special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong, and TaiwanOnly Filipinos and permanent resident visa holders are allowed to enter the Philippines, while Filipinos cannot go to the areas included in the ban.

The DOH admitted that it initially overlooked the ban on Taiwan due to "confusion" among involved agencies, but started implementing it the weekend of February 8 to 9.

Taiwan is included in the ban as the Philippines has a One-China policy, meaning it "respects the position of the Chinese government that there is but one China and that Taiwan is an integral part of Chinese territory." The World Health Organization also recognizes Taiwan as part of China in its situation reports about 2019-nCoV. 

But Taiwan has since denounced the Philippine government's move, asserting it is not part of China.

There are now concerns that Taiwan may cancel visa-free privileges for Filipinos in retaliation for the travel ban.

So far, the Philippines has 3 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. They are imported cases, the patients having traveled from China. One of them died, while the other two have since recovered.

As of Thursday noon, the novel coronavirus has killed 1,368 people and infected over 60,300 people worldwide. – Rappler.com