Philippines to ban travel from countries with new COVID-19 variant — Duque

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Philippines to ban travel from countries with new COVID-19 variant � Duque
Travelers walk past a thermal camera upon arrival at the international airport in Manila on February 5, 2020.
AFP / Romeo Gacad

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the imposition of a travel ban on countries that have registered cases of a new coronavirus variant which experts fear to be more contagious.

This was confirmed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who told DZRH on Tuesday that the ban, approved by the president on Monday, would take effect on December 30 at 12:01 a.m. and would remain in place until January 15.

The new coronavirus strain, which experts fear to be at least 50% more contagious first originated in the United Kingdom but has since spread to other European countries as well as Canada, Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

Per an advisory from the Manila International Airport Authority, passengers from the following countries will be prohibited from entering the country: 

  • United Kingdom
  • Switzerland
  • Denmark
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Ireland
  • Singapore
  • Japan
  • Germany
  • Australia
  • Iceland
  • South Africa
  • Italy
  • Israel
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Lebanon
  • Canada
  • Sweden
  • France
  • South Korea

A travel ban on the UK was imposed by the government earlier this month. It was set to expire on December 31 but has since been extended for another two weeks.

In a Sunday press release, the Department of Health said it was also monitoring other countries which have reported their own local strains of COVID-19.

South African strain

Earlier Tuesday, the OCTA Research Group urged the government to consider imposing travel bans on other countries which were showing signs of new, and possibly more transmittable, strains.

"We have a travel ban from UK, maybe we should also consider travel bans from other countries like South Africa," University of the Philippines mathematics professor Guido David told CNN Philippines' "The Source."

South Africa has reported a new local variant of COVID-19 which has been detected by authorities in Japan. Travel from South Africa has since been restricted by the COVID-19 task force. 

"And, to augment the travel ban, we should definitely have strict policies in airports and people coming in should be tested, monitored, and quarantined," David added.

OFWs exempted from ban

Duque said partially in Filipino that "[overseas Filipino workers] will be allowed to enter [the country], they only need to quarantine for 14 days."

According to the health secretary, the two week quarantine will be mandatory for OFWs returning from these 20 countries, regardless of their swab test results.

In a press conference later Tuesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said exemption from the travel restrictions only applies to migrant workers and not family workers. 

He added that some 60,000 to 100,000 OFWs are expected to return in the next two weeks. 

Rationalizing the decision to allow migrant workers from the countries with the new UK strain, Bello said partially in Filipino: "That was the decision of our president. He was very firm in deciding that the restriction will only apply to other travelers from UK and the 20 other countries. And he exempted our OFWs, because he said, I want our OFWs to go home to their families." 

Bello also said that no deployment bans to the nations who have recorded the new UK variant have been decided, adding that most of these countries have already implemented their own lockdowns.

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