Duterte expands ban on travelers from China, Hong Kong, Macau over coronavirus fears

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – As cases of 2019 novel coronavirus continues to surge worldwide, President Rodrigo Duterte has expanded the Philippine government's ban on travelers to cover any person coming directly from China, Hong Kong, and Macau within the last two weeks.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the announcement on Sunday, February 2, saying the ban exempts Filipino citizens, but will cover any person regardless of nationality and would take effect "immediately." 

Duterte's order, coursed through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, was among the recommended guidelines of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

'With the safety of the Country and all persons within our territory as prime considerations, and upon further advize from the Department of Health (DOH) that the virus has affected all regions of China, the President has immediately approved... Temporarily banning the entry of any person, regardless of nationality, directly coming from China and its Special Administrative Regions," Medialdea said in a statement.

Medialdea said only Filipino citizens and holders of permanent resident visas issued by the Philippine Government were exempted from the ban.

The Duterte administration's latest move widens the scope of restrictions taken to quell the spread of the virus. On Friday, January 31, Duterte earlier imposed a ban on travelers from Wuhan City and Hubei province – the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus – as well as other affected regions of China.

What to expect. Filipinos and permanent resident visa holders coming from China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, following DOH guidelines.

Medialdea said Duterte also agreed to temporarily ban Filipinos from travelling to China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Aside from this, the President ordered the establishment of a repatriation and quarantine facility, Medialdea added.

This was reflected in an order by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) issued on Sunday, where all airlines are required to impose the following:

1. Temporary ban on entry into the Philippines of any person regardless of nationality, except Filipino citizens and holders of permanent resident visas (PRV) issued by the Philippine government, directly coming from China or its special administrative regions (SAR);

2. Temporary ban on entry into the Philippines of any person regardless of nationality, except Filipino citizens and PRV holders, who within 14 days immediately before arrival in the Philippines, has been to China or any SAR;

3. Temporary ban on Filipinos from travel to China or any SAR.

The CAB order also mandated a 14-day quarantine for Filipinos and PRV holders coming from any place in China and any SAR. However, this will be a self-quarantine or home quarantine, said Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal on Sunday afternoon.

"There will be people who will be monitoring them... There will be doctors and epidemiology experts who will track down and check them...twice-a-day call, checking their status. Basically, it is a home quarantine for Filipinos who are coming from China, Hong Kong, and Macau," explained Monreal.

The Philippines joins a growing list of countries that have put in place temporary but sweeping travel restrictions on travelers coming from China within the last two weeks. The United States and Australia were among countries that imposed such bans following the the World Health Organization's (WHO) declaration the outbreak as a global emergency.

Despite this, the WHO warned that closing borders was probably ineffective in halting transmission and could accelerate the virus's spread.

Other measures taken. The CAB already earlier suspended direct flights from Wuhan City – ground zero for the virus. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration announced on Tuesday, January 28, the temporary suspension of the visa upon arrival mechanism for Chinese tourists and businessmen.

The Department of Foriegn Affiars (DFA) likewise temporarily stopped issuing visas to travelers from Hubei province. Meanwhile, on Thursday night, January 30, the DFA called for the repatriation of Filipinos in China over fears of the virus spread.

Medialdea said Duterte will preside over the next meeting of the task force in charge of handling the government's response to the coronavirus on Monday, February 3. Duterte advised all government institutions and local government unites to adopt, coordinate, and implement the task force's guidelines until the threat of the virus was over.

Medialdea said military and police were also on standby and have been directed "to give the necessary assistance to ensure the implementation of this directive to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone."

The latest in the Philippines. Health officials on Sunday confirmed the second case of coronavirus in the country.

The patient, who already died, was said the be the companion of the Philippines' first confirmed case, according to health authorities. Both patients travelled to the Philippines from Wuhan, China.

The patient's death marks the first confirmed death outside of China due to the coronavirus. The WHO stressed, though, the case was not a "locally-acquired" as the fatality came from Wuhan.

Malacañang reminded the public to follow health officials’ advice, practice good personal hygiene like regular hand washing as a preventive measure, and wearing surgical masks when going around crowded areas.

As of early morning Sunday, February 2, the virus has killed 304 people and infected over 14,000 people worldwide. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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