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Duque to recommend strict travel restrictions on travelers from Middle East
This Dec. 24, 2020 photo shows passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The STAR/KJ Rosales

Duque to recommend strict travel restrictions on travelers from Middle East

(Philstar.com) - May 12, 2021 - 9:50am

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Wednesday he will recommend strict travel restrictions on passengers arriving from the Middle East following the detection of cases of a coronavirus variant first identified in India.

Two seafarers who returned in April tested positive for the B.1.617 variant, the DOH reported. One arrived from Oman, while the other came from the United Arab Emirates.

“I will recommend that certainly. But I’m in touch with our World Health Organization country representative in the same manner we have expanded our travel ban beyond India,” Duque said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

“Rest assured I will make that recommendation,” he added.

Currently, the government is prohibiting the entry of travelers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka until May 14. Authorities also approved the recommendation that inbound passengers be tested for COVID-19 on the seventh day of their quarantine.

The WHO classified B.1.617—which is said to be driving the acceleration of India’s alarming COVID-19 outbreak—as a “variant of concern at the global level.” It said the variant had been detected in 44 countries.

Duque said he needs to consult with Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, if more stringent border control should cover other countries that have already reported the presence of the variant.

“What is important is we were able to implement an intensified border control, and quarantine and isolation protocols have been followed. That is why we were able to detected these cases plus of course our heightened biosurveillance and improved genomic sequencing,” he said.

Late implementation of travel ban

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, who is also treatment czar, said the implementation of travel restrictions on travelers returning from India came too late.

“Definitely that was kind of late in terms of the implementation of the travel ban,” Vega said in an interview with CNN Philippines Tuesday.

The first case arrived in the Philippines on April 10, while the second case arrived on April 19.

Travel restrictions on India were imposed only on April 29. The implementation of the expanded travel ban covering parts of the Indian subcontinent began on May 7.

But Vega said it is important to stress that health protocols were enforced.

“There’s a good policy in terms of the quarantine and the protocols were set in terms of returning Filipinos coming from India or the Middle East,” he said. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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