People wearing masks arrive at Hongqioa train station as they head home for the Lunar New Year in Shanghai on January 23, 2020 China placed the city at the centre of a virus outbreak under effective quarantine, suspending outward flights and trains in a drastic step to contain a contagious disease that has killed 17, stricken hundreds and reached other countries.
AFP/Hector Retamal
Philippines halts visa issuance to travelers from Hubei Province over coronavirus outbreak
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - January 29, 2020 - 2:41pm

MANILA, Philippines — Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Dodo Dulay announced that the department would suspend visa issuances to those coming from the Hubei Province in China, where the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019 nCoV) is said to have originated.

"Pursuant to the IATF on (2019 novel coronavirus) resolution, DFA has temporarily suspended the issuance of Philippine visas to travelers from Hubei Province, China, effectively immediately," he wrote in a tweet on Tuesday night. 

Attached to his tweet was a resolution by the Health department's Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases detailing the task force's approval of the recommendation to "propose temporary restrictions on issuance of visas for travelers coming from Hubei Province of China."

Despite this release, Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday again called for a government to "suspend all visa issuances to visitors from Wuhan and other areas in China where the disease has spread."

"Visa upon arrival lang ang suspended para sa mga Chinese. Yung tours, delegates, at businessmen, tulad nung cruise ships sa Subic, tuloy-tuloy pa. Dapat lahat," said Pangilinan in a statement.

"[W]hat is the rule for the thousands of Chinese arrivals? Bakit mga turistang Chinese galing China sakay ng cruise ship as per Bureau of Quarantine at Coast Guard, walang quarantine? Dahil ba may pampadulas ang mga bisita kaya labas-pasok sila?" Pangilinan added.

"Bakit kanya-kanyang diskarte ang mga ahensya na salungat sa isa't-isa? Who is in charge? Meron ba? DoH at Malacañang, kumilos kayo agad at huwag papasukin ang mga turista galing ng China habang nariyan ang outbreak."

Health security woes

As of this writing, the DOH has not yet recorded any confirmed cases of 2019 nCoV in the country despite the presence of persons under investigation. 

"Twenty-seven pero three na-discharge na so 24 ang admitted pa (There were 27 PUIs but three were discharged so 24 are still admitted)," Domingo confirmed in a text to Philstar.com on Tuesday.

During his opening statement at the Senate hearing on Disaster Resilience on Wednesday morning, Sen. Panfilo Lacson echoed the same sentiment on the intersection and integration of agencies, saying these should be addressed first before coming up with a committee report creating an entirely new department to address disaster management. 

"There are agencies under the different departments. Are we going to uproot or pull out these agencies under the different departments? And there's a lot. For example, PAGASA under DOST, Phivolcs under DOST, BFP under DILG, Health Emergency Management Bureau under DOH," he said. 

"Ito bang lahat na mga agencies, kung magtatayo tayo ng standalone department, ipu-pull out natin to be absorbed by the new department?"

In late October last year, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative released their Global Health Security index, whose results concluded that no country in the world is “fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics."

READ: The Philippines scored '0' in 5 indicators on the Global Health Security index. Here's why

While the Philippines placed an above-average 53rd out of a total of 195 countries included in the study, the country also scored zero in a total of five health security indicators. These included the links between public health and security authorities, biosafety and government communication with healthcare workers during public health emergency among others. 

Malacañang in a press briefing said that they saw no need to bar Chinese citizens, even from Wuhan, from entering the Philippines. 

Pangilinan made the same pronouncement just a day before, pointing out the volume of Chinese visitors who entered the country in the past year. 

"A total of 1,626,309 tourists from mainland China visited the country from January to November 2019. That's over 4,800 Chinese tourists every day," he said. 

READ: Pangilinan wants preemptive ban for visitors from Wuhan, China

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