Travel restrictions now eyed on UAE, day after new variant case is confirmed
Filipino repatriates are welcomed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 in this August 2020 photo
The STAR/Edd Gumban

Travel restrictions now eyed on UAE, day after new variant case is confirmed

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - January 14, 2021 - 4:49am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:25 p.m.) — Health officials on Thursday said they will now recommend travel restrictions to the United Arab Emirates, a day after a Filipino from the Middle East country became the Philippines' first case of the new COVID-19 variant and despite the UAE having confirmed cases even before 2020 ended.

The Duterte administration had halted the entry of foreign tourists from over 30 countries by January, but it had not included the UAE in its list, despite officials there reporting first infections by December 29.

"Wala naman kaming duda na ito'y aaprubahan ng Office of the President," Duque said in a DOH briefing. "Ngayon pa lang kahit wala pa, isinasama na natin sila sa bagong protocol."

(We have no doubt that this would be approved by the Office of the President. But as early as now, we are already including them [UAE] in the new protocol.)

In a January 5 statement, the agency said the list would be regularly updated on the basis of two sources: official detection in a country through government channels, or an official notification to the International Health Regulations.

It added that it would not take in unofficial sources, including those coming from media. 

Duque in another briefing said UAE authorities had not reported that they already have cases of the new variant, when pressed on why the country was not in the administration's travel restrictions.

The UAE report, however, came from its National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, through a briefing by Omar Al Hammadi, an official government spokesman.

"Noong una kasi walang International Health Regulation notification na mayroon na sila nitong variant na ito, pero ngayon alam na nila. Pinadala na natin sa kanila," the country's health chief said.

(They had not issued a notification to the International Health Regulation that they have detected the variant, but they will now know because we already sent it to them.)

Barring entry to foreign travelers would mean Filipinos coming from territories on the restricted list would still be allowed to enter the Philippines, but they would have to undergo a two-week quarantine regardless of their COVID-19 test result.

International tourists from countries not on the list would also have to finish a 14-day quarantine after a negative RT-PCR test result at point of entry.

Imposing restrictions on travel had been a significant issue in the country over the course of the pandemic that has now infected nearly 493,000 and close to 9,700.

Government faced criticism this time last year when Duque and President Rodrigo Duterte rejected calls for an early travel ban on foreigners from China, where the COVID-19 had originated, wary of the effects of what they said may be seen as singling out Beijing.

By end-January of 2020, officials reported the Philippines' first confirmed coronavirus infection: a Chinese tourist from Wuhan, the ground zero of the virus, who traveled to various parts of the country before seeking help.

It was also only a day later that Duterte ordered a travel ban to the Hubei province which includes Wuhan, when the virus already reached the country's shores. 

Lawmaker Angelica Natasha Co, who represents community health workers in the House, renewed calls for travel ban on all countries, hitting the coronavirus task force's "overly-cautious" stance on putting restrictions.

"The first confirmed new case is clear proof that the current IATF policy approach is ineffective and must be abandoned immediately," she said. "We must stop playing catch up against the fast-moving coronavirus. Running after the [COVID-19] after it is allowed to enter our airports is insanity."

Contact tracing efforts have since begun for the passengers of the Emirates flight that the 29-year-old Filipino and his partner were in upon returning to Manila.

Health officials have also sought the help of the interior department for tracing. The Quezon City government has said that close contacts of the couple are now in isolation.

COVID-19 COVID-19 VARIANT DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH NOVEL CORONAVIRUS UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
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