Duterte bans travelers from Hubei province

Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado - The Philippine Star
Duterte bans travelers from Hubei province
Hubei’s capital, Wuhan City, is considered ground zero of the global contagion that has killed more than 200 people in China and left thousands seriously ill – some forced to stay in isolation – in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.
AFP / Hector Retamal

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has ordered a ban on Chinese nationals coming from Hubei province, which is already on lockdown, as well as from other places in China that Beijing may declare as heavily affected by the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak.

Hubei’s capital, Wuhan City, is considered ground zero of the global contagion that has killed more than 200 people in China and left thousands seriously ill – some forced to stay in isolation – in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.

The first recorded case of nCoV infection in the Philippines was a 38-year-old female tourist from Wuhan City.

Duterte’s order came in the wake of the announcement of the Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday of the first confirmed case.

Later on the same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the nCoV outbreak a global emergency.

“Upon the recommendation of DOH Secretary Francisco Duque, the President has issued a travel ban to Chinese nationals coming from Hubei province of China where the nCoV originated, as well in other places in China where there is a spread of the disease,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday in a statement.

“It will last until the threat is over, given that the safety of our countrymen is foremost in the President’s mind,” he said, referring to the travel ban.

In Tacloban City, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go said about 50 Filipinos in China have expressed intention to be repatriated. “Our government, on the other hand, is ready to fetch and take them back here out of China, if needed,” he said.

On Wednesday, Duterte ordered strict monitoring of all ports of entry in the country as reports of the spread of what he called “mysterious disease” began to cause anxiety and even panic among Filipinos.

He scoffed at the idea of banning travel to any part of China, saying there was a “slightest possibility that a contamination could occur in the Philippines.”

“There is no known vaccine. This is a mysterious disease and we are just preparing maybe for the worst,” Duterte had said.

“We can marshal what we have but what we do not know, we are at a loss really on what to do, just like other nations,” he said a day before the Philippines confirmed its first case of nCoV infection.

Panelo said the Palace readily expressed concern hours after the DOH confirmed the first case of nCoV in the country, contrary to what critics were claiming. “This raises a serious concern by the administration on the health and safety of our countrymen,” he said.

Duterte has directed the DOH “to commence the protocols it has prepared for such an eventuality to contain the disease and neutralize its transmission and spread.”                                                        

In a separate interview, Panelo said the government would issue updates on the travel warning for other areas in China based on information that would come from Beijing or the WHO.

“It’s the Chinese government, they’re the ones who should tell us, or the World Health Organization,” Panelo said. “Right now, it’s only Hubei. That’s what we know so far since that is the place mentioned.”

Panelo noted that China itself has ordered a lockdown in areas deemed heavily infected.

“What is there a need to ban for if they have a lockdown there?” Panelo added when pressed further. “There is only one underlying factor that will make the President ban any travel coming from that area and that is the threat to our nationals.”

Panelo reiterated that the ban covers only Hubei province where the first nCoV case in the Philippines – a Chinese woman – came from. She had flown to Hong Kong, then to Cebu, to Dumaguete and finally landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

“She is presently confined at San Lazaro.  Per DOH Secretary Duque, the patient is being treated and isolated. There is no way that she will transmit the disease to another person as the hospital personnel are protectively dressed and their mouths and noses covered with surgical masks, plus their hands covered with gloves,” the Palace official said.                                          

He cited DOH’s assurance “that every measure is being undertaken to contain the spread of the dreadful virus as well as monitoring and placing in quarantine those showing of symptoms of having nCoV.”

“We ask our countrymen to follow the advice of the DOH to observe  personal hygiene as a preventive measure, like regularly washing one’s hands and wearing surgical masks in going around crowded areas,” he said.  –  Miriam Desacada

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