As coronavirus spreads, Duterte hits 'xenophobia' vs Chinese

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, February 3, rejected calls for the Philippine government to bar all Chinese from entering the country as he hit the display of xenophobia against Chinese amid the global spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Duterte made the statement Monday night, addressing calls online that supposedly urged the Philippine government to bar all Chinese from entering and send those in the country back to China.

"If the question is if I will bar Chinese from entering, the answer of course is no. That is an utter disrespect to a human being.... This mentioning [of] the Chinese and blaming them is xenophobia," Duterte said in a press conference Monday night.

"Stop this xenophobia thing," he added.

Duterte said calls to have Chinese in the Philippines return to China were "a case of bad taste." He sought to remind Filipinos that Chinese were not at fault for the emergence of the disease, which could have propagated in other places. (READ: Robredo urges Filipinos to respect Chinese amid coronavirus spread)

"It happened in China – at least the first [case] – but that is not the fault of anybody. Not of the Chinese, not the Filipinos, not of anyone," he said.

The President then urged the public to "remember" the thousands of Filipinos who are in China, saying countries should help one another take care of its citizens.

"We have many Filipinos in China. Even if we have none, we are a community of nations, we cooperate. China has been kind to us, we can only show the same," Duterte said.

Travel restrictions. The Philippine government on Sunday, February 2, implemented a ban against non-Filipinos coming to the country directly from China, Hong Kong, and Macau in an effort to quell the spread of the virus.

The restrictions, Duterte said, do not cover Chinese who hold valid Philippine visas and are coming from other countries outside China. 

Aside from this, the Philippines also temporarily stopped issuing visas to travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, while immigration officials suspended the visa upon arrival mechanism for Chinese tourists and businessmen.

Asked if the government is considering expanding travel bans to include other countries with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, Duterte said the Philippines would follow the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO).

"They (WHO) have all the inputs and they would know what to do...we go by the regulations that will be given out by the WHO. We cannot act on our own," he said.

Travel bans, though, were imposed even if the World Health Organization warned that closing borders was likely ineffective in halting transmission of the virus. 

Slow to act? Duterte has been criticized for being slow to act on the novel coronavirus compared to other countries which swiftly put in place sweeping restrictions to quell the spread of the virus and informed the public of such measures.

Despite this, the President said "everything is well" in the Philippines and that there's "nothing really to be extra scared of."

"It will die a natural death, ito matatapos rin ito (this too shall pass), will it worsen in the meantime? Maybe.... [But] the progress of medical science now is far different than the yesteryears," Duterte said as he expressed confidence that health experts would find a "solution" to the novel coronavirus. 

While health officials have given assurances they are closely monitoring suspected novel coronavirus cases in the country, they repeatedly reminded the public to practice good personal hygiene such as frequent handwashing and to seek medical treatment immediately, if necessary.

So far, the Department of Health has confirmed two cases of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines.

These include the first death outside China – a 44-year-old Chinese man who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan. The man was the country's second confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, and a companion of the first patient, a 38-year-old Chinese woman.

As of Monday, the virus has so far killed 362 people and infected over 17,000 people worldwide. – Rappler.com

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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