Philippines eyes lifting Macau travel ban

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Philippines eyes lifting Macau travel ban
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the lifting of the travel ban in Macau will depend on the assessment of the health department and key government agencies on the protocols implemented there for containing the disease.
AFP / Isaac Lawrence / File

MANILA, Philippines — After Taiwan, Philippine officials are monitoring efforts to contain coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) in Macau to determine whether the travel ban can now be lifted in one of China’s two special administrative regions.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the lifting of the travel ban in Macau will depend on the assessment of the health department and key government agencies on the protocols implemented there for containing the disease. 

“It’s on Resolution No. 5 of the Interagency Task Force (IATF) that places like Macau can have their ban lifted depending on the protocols they send, or protocols they have for travelers to and from Macau,” Andanar said, referring to the resolution approved Friday by the  task force.

“This is a developing issue, and no one wants the Philippines to have a travel ban against any country,” he added. 

The lifting of travel restrictions will depend on various factors, including the health protocols, as well as the report on local transmission and actual number of persons affected by COVID-19, Andanar said.

Members of the diplomatic corps, regardless of nationality, are exempted from the travel ban.

As this developed, Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said the Philippine government will request from the Chinese government information on the protocols implemented to contain the virus as far as Macau is concerned.

Hong Kong and Macau were included in the Feb. 2 travel ban because both are China’s special administrative regions (SARs).

“The IATF, through the chairperson, shall request the Chinese government to inform the Philippines of protocols being followed by Macau, if any, that prevent potential carriers of COVID-19 from entering or departing such SAR, and enable other jurisdictions to determine the recent travel history of any traveler exiting from Macau,” the resolution read.  

Duque and Andanar have both stressed that public health and public safety will always be the primordial consideration that the Philippine government looks into before “modifying the current travel restrictions.”

No space for complacency 

For his part, Duque said he does not want the country to be complacent on the reports that the disease is already stabilizing in China, where the virus originated last month. 

“I don’t want to be a ‘KJ’ (killjoy), but it’s premature. We have seen some initial trending that it’s not consistent, so we have to wait for more data to come in and to establish a trending that’s more consistent, whether it’s plateauing, or is it going down? The situation remains fluid,” Duque explained. 

During the Laging Handa press briefing in Malacañang last Friday, the health secretary was asked for his reaction on the World Health Organization’s statement that the novel coronavirus seems to be stabilizing in China over the past week. 

As far as Duque is concerned, there is a need to look into various data and implement stricter monitoring on the spread of the disease, number of people infected and the protocols imposed by other countries to contain the disease, which should be properly and extensively studied by experts before it is determined that it has indeed stabilized. 

“Clearly, the factors to be considered would be the data stream that comes in,” he said.

Reconsider HK ban

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Insitute yesterday urged the IATF to reconsider the travel ban imposed on Hong Kong.

According to center president Susan Ople, the IATF should now allow Filipinos who are already Hong Kong residents to leave “because their families are waiting for them.”  

“The travel ban has separated HK residents from their loved ones, disrupting households and endangering sustainable and dependable incomes,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian appealed for solidarity following anti-China sentiments.

“Discrimination is not right and Filipinos ought not to be discriminatory,” the senator urged.

Gatchalian, who has always believed that discrimination in the country is very low, reiterates that the Filipino people draw strength from being one of the most diverse cultures in terms of race and nationality.

Health officials themselves have earlier called for the public to put a stop to the issue of racism, adding that it does not help in containing the virus. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Cecille Suerte Felipe



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