Duterte orders travel ban from China province amid coronavirus scare

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 31) — President Rodrigo Duterte has issued an order to temporarily stop the entry of all visitors from China's Hubei province, where Wuhan — epicenter of the novel coronavirus — is located, his spokesperson said on Friday. The Chinese government has locked down Hubei since January 24.

The announcement came a day after the Philippines confirmed its first case of the deadly virus.

Salvador Panelo, in an interview with reporters, clarified that all foreign nationals—and not just Chinese—will be banned from entering the country amid the continued rise of coronavirus cases in the neighboring nation.

Panelo also defended the move to limit the ban to Hubei, saying there has been no official communication about confirmed cases outside ground zero.

Kailangan mayroon tayong (we need to have) official communication coming from them,” Panelo said.

The Health Department, however, said it will recommend an expansion of the travel ban to more areas and provinces in China as soon as new information on cases come in.

Senator Bong Go, a close ally of Duterte, said the President set a meeting next week with medical experts and key government officials to discuss all necessary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Rest assured that the Duterte administration takes this threat seriously," he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo told the Duterte administration to "immediately act" on recommendations to contain the spead of the virus, such as imposing a total travel ban from China and planning for possible evacuation if necessary.

"Ang kasalukuyang banta ng coronavirus sa bawat Pilipino ay nangangailangan ng agarang aksyon mula sa ating pamahalaan... Bawat minutong ipapagbukas pa ang pag-aksyon sa mga rekomendasyong ito, lalong nailalagay sa panganib ang kapakanan at kalusugan ng ating mga mamamayan," she said in a statement on Friday.

[Translation: The threat of coronavirus to Filipinos needs swift action from the government. Every minute wasted before acting on the recommendations puts the welfare and health of Filipinos at risk.]

Even before the Philippines recorded its first case, several sectors, including numerous lawmakers, had clamored for the national government to impose a travel ban from China to stop the entry of the deadly virus. But on Wednesday, Duterte rejected the calls. He said imposing a travel ban might be difficult to undertake.

Related: Duterte not keen on banning travel to China amid coronavirus scare

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was also reluctant to recommend barring Chinese nationals from entering the country. He said they are looking at the ban as an option but he raised that China might question why we are not imposing the same restriction on other countries.

As of Friday, the Health Department said 31 patients remain under investigation for suspected infection in the country.