2 ships from China arrive in Manila, get coronavirus clearance

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Two ships from China docked at Pier 15 of the Port of Manila were declared "clear and safe" from the novel coronavirus by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), the Philippine Coast Guard said on Tuesday, January 28.

The World Dream cruise ship arrived in Manila from Hong Kong on Tuesday. Its 778 passengers were "authorized to travel" by the BOQ.

They were originally scheduled to board the ship again on Tuesday night to travel to Subic Bay for a tour on Wednesday, January 29. However, Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino Jr and Subic Mayor Jonathan John Khonghun both asked the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority to stop admitting cruise ships because of the threat of the novel coronavirus.

In Olongapo City, which faces Subic Bay, groups rallied to protest the arrival of cruise ships, worried it would put them at risk of exposure to the virus. 

Coast guard spokesperson Captain Armand Balilo said the World Dream's Subic tour has been canceled, and the cruise ship will sail back to Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The other vessel, the cargo ship MV Ligulao, arrived in Manila from Lianyungang, Jiangsu, in mainland China on Monday, January 27. Although the BOQ declared the ship's 20 crew members free of the novel coronavirus, they were not allowed to disembark because they had no shore passes. 

The MV Ligulao is expected to leave Manila on Tuesday afternoon.

Officials from the BOQ ran "mandatory inspections" of both vessels' crew and passengers, the coast guard said.

When asked how the BOQ concluded that the people aboard the ship were free of the virus given that its carriers may not show any symptoms, the coast guard did not give an immediate answer.

The coast guard works with the BOQ and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in inspecting vessels coming into the Port of Manila.

Immigration officers routinely board cruise ships bound for the Philippines at a foreign port, and then conduct inspections onboard while at sea, said Undersecretary Markk Perete of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees the BI.

"We have directed the BI to coordinate with the Department of Health on the proper protocols – the use of masks and other protective clothing or gear, the procedure on face to face checks, et cetera. All these safety measures have been designed in coordination with, and taking into consideration, the inputs from our health officials," Perete said in a media interview on Tuesday.

Although the DOJ temporarily suspended granting visas upon arrival to Chinese nationals starting Tuesday to "slow down the influx of group tours," the order did not cover the passengers of the World Dream cruise ship because cruise passengers secure visas before arriving in the Philippines, BI Spokesperson Dana Mengote Sandoval told Rappler.

The novel coronavirus is believed to have originated from Wuhan, China. At least 106 people have died in the epidemic that has spread throughout China, and reached several other countries around the world.

Travel to and from Wuhan has been blocked, and travel in and around China has been restricted.

Although the Philippines suspended flights to and from Wuhan, it has not extended the measure to cover China entirely.

Philippine health officials are monitoring a number of patients with flu-like symptoms, including two at Manila's San Lazaro Hospital who have a history of travel to Wuhan.

There is no confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines as of this posting. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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