The ban covers all travelers from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, including those who visited these areas within 14 days.
Simeon Celi Jr./Presidential Photo, File
Government bans travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau
Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte expanded yesterday the government’s travel ban on the whole of China and its special administrative regions as the Philippines reported the first death from the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) outside the country of its origin.

The ban covers all travelers from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, including those who visited these areas within 14 days.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go said the President’s decision was made upon the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases during a meeting on Saturday night.

Travel from the Philippines to China and its territories will also be prohited temporarily, Go said.

“We are not singling out the Chinese. The order covers all travelers from China to the Philippines, regardless of nationality,” Go said.

Duterte earlier ordered a travel ban covering only Chinese citizens coming from Hubei province in eastern China where the 2019 nCoV originated.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said while Filipino citizens and those who hold permanent resident visa issued by the Philippine government are not covered by the ban, they need to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country.

Medialdea said the IATF recommended the travel ban immediately after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 2019 nCoV ARD (acute respiratory disease) a global emergency on Friday.

He said the President is expected to preside over the meeting of the task force today.

“The task force was also given the authority, if necessary, to ban the entry of travelers from other areas with confirmed nCoV ARD infections,” Medialdea said.

Duterte has also approved the implementation of other measures recommended by the task force, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine for Filipinos and holders of permanent resident visa coming from any place in China as well as the establishment of a repatriation and quarantine facility.

All heads of departments, agencies and offices of the government, state-run corporations and financial institutions, state universities and colleges as well as local governments were directed to adopt and implement the guidelines to be issued by the task force.

“The military, Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies are on standby and have been ordered to ensure the implementation of the directive to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone,” Medialdea said.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the directive issued by the President and the protocols to be implemented would last “until the threat of the dreaded disease has ceased.”

“We reiterate the advice of the DOH (Department of Health) to the public to observe proper hygiene such as regular hand washing and wearing of protective masks when going around crowded areas,” Panelo said.

Go said the Philippine government is committed to helping all countries affected by the nCoV epidemic.

“We empathize with China given what they are going through, but we are doing this to protect the country and its people. The government is committed to help China and other affected countries address this worldwide health concern,” he said.

As for the 40 Filipinos in Wuhan City who have volunteered to return home, Go said the government is ready to deploy aircraft to bring them back to the Philippines.

The Senate committee on health, chaired by Go, will hold a public hearing tomorrow on the entry of nCoV in the country.

He said representatives of concerned agencies would be present in the meeting, including WHO representatives and health experts from various fields.

Go urged those who criticize the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus to help provide solutions instead.

Travel ban welcomed

Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday welcomed the government’s order to expand the travel ban on China and its territories.

“This is a welcome development, but it should have been done earlier to contain the virus,” Robredo said in her weekly program over dzXL.

She urged Duterte to address the public and assure them that the government is doing everything to address the nCoV epidemic.

She said the government’s actions must be “swift and aggressive” as the DOH confirmed yesterday the second nCoV case and first death in the country.

Robredo cited the armed forces of Singapore that vowed to provide face masks to five million households in the country.

“I think the people are looking for assurance from the government that it is doing everything to protect them. Without the assurance, there will always be fear because they don’t know how the government is responding (to the virus),” she said.

Robredo said cases of nCoV were reported in Wuhan City as early as Jan. 1. However, she said flights from Wuhan to Kalibo, Aklan continued until Jan. 23.

“If the travel ban was enforced earlier, it should have lessened the panic of the people here,” she said. “I think the continued flights from China added to that fear.”

The Vice President likewise appealed to Filipinos to remain calm and follow the advice of health experts.

“We need to boost our immune system. We should take vitamins and let’s avoid crowded places,” she said.

Robredo said the temporary travel ban was not aimed to discriminate the Chinese as she called on Filipinos to treat them well.

“This is not a fight against China or its people, but a fight against the disease,” she said.

“We don’t say that all Chinese should not be allowed to come here but only the flights from areas where nCoV infections are high,” she added.

The Bureau of Immigration has been ordered to implement a temporary travel ban to and from China, BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval said.

She said they advised airlines to screen travelers from other countries affected by nCoV.

Last January, the BI suspended the issuance of visa upon arrival to Chinese nationals. - With Paolo Romero, Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan

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