Philippines travel ban on over 30 countries extended

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Philippines travel ban on over 30 countries extended
At a press briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire had reiterated that it was “not feasible” to impose a “complete travel ban for everybody right now.”

MANILA, Philippines — After confirmation that a Filipino had been infected with the UK variant of COVID-19 following a business trip in Dubai, the Philippine government extended yesterday for another 15 days the travel restrictions on 33 countries with known cases of new coronavirus strains and expanded the restriction to cover the United Arab Emirates and Hungary.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. broke the news after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) met on Thursday to discuss further measures to contain the virus, which now has variants originating from Britain and South Africa.

“Travel restrictions in more than 30 countries extended until Jan. 31, 2021,” Roque said.

“The IATF directed the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to strictly implement issuances against airlines that allow the boarding of passengers who are prohibited from entering the Philippines, pursuant to the travel restrictions imposed by the Office of the President and the IATF,” Roque said.

“We expect further decrease in the number of travelers in the coming weeks due to the reported new variants of COVID-19,” Bureau of Immigration (BI) commissioner Jaime Morente said.

“We shall continue implementing existing protocol on arriving Filipinos from the 33 countries,” he said. “We are implementing strict social distancing measures in the immigration areas at the airports, to ensure that contact is minimized during travel.”

Covered by the travel restrictions aside from the US, Britain and South Africa are Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, China including Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, Canada, Spain, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Austria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg and Oman.

The IATF and concerned agencies may issue implementing guidelines for exemptions.

“Third-generation” contacts of a person found to be positive for COVID-19 will also be covered under strict contact tracing procedures, the Palace said.

“Contact tracing protocols, on the other hand, shall be strengthened by expanding to third-generation contacts for known new variant cases,” Roque said.

All identified close contacts are required to undergo a strict facility-based 14-day quarantine while remaining contacts from the flight manifest shall be advised of the appropriate quarantine protocols.

The IATF also directed the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to issue advisories to local government units (LGUs) to prepare and ensure proper maintenance of their quarantine facilities.

The DILG also directed LGUs to ensure proper enforcement of the StaySafe.ph system for ease of contact tracing.

“Those who are found to be positive, apart from the prescribed testing and quarantine protocols, shall undergo whole genome sequencing to be conducted by the Department of Health (DOH), University of the Philippines  Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) and the UP National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH),” Roque said.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the DOTr One-Stop Shop shall ensure that appropriate protocols are implemented for all those found to be positive of the new COVID-19 variants.

The IATF also approved the continuation of weekly genomic biosurveillance activities of the DOH, UP-PGC, UP-NIH among incoming passengers and local cases, prioritizing hospitalized patients, re-infected patients and those in clusters.

“The IATF further directed the convening of a small working group as soon as possible to resolve issues on funding, availability and use of quarantine facilities, and eventual handing over LGUs of arriving overseas Filipinos. The DOH shall be the lead in this working group,” Roque said.

The DOH yesterday echoed the pronouncement of President Duterte that Filipinos will not be banned from entering the country amid the threats of the new variants of COVID-19.

At a press briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire had reiterated that it was “not feasible” to impose a “complete travel ban for everybody right now.”

“Our safeguard will be the surveillance that we will be doing and the strict protocol at the port of entry,” she said.

Vergeire noted there is no country that has imposed a total ban because of the new variant.

“We know this variant is inevitable. That is what our experts have been saying. It’s part of the evolution of virus (to) mutate,” she added.

According to Vergeire, the Philippines is also not inclined to ban the deployment of Filipinos to countries where the UK variant was detected.  – Rudy Santos, Sheila Crisostomo


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