Duterte widens travel ban on mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 2) – President Rodrigo Duterte has expanded the coverage of the temporary travel ban amid the threat of the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV to now include foreign travellers to and from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

The wider travel ban, announced Sunday initially by Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, came just two days after the President ordered to temporarily ban the entry of visitors from China's Hubei province where Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, is located.

Go said Duterte accepted the recommendation of the Department of Health (DOH) along with the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Subsequently on Sunday morning, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea announced in a statement that the temporary ban now covers the following:

- The entry of any person, regardless of nationality, except Filipino citizens and foreigners holding permanent resident visas issued by the Philippine government, directly coming from China and its special administrative regions (SARs) Hong Kong and Macau

- The entry of any person, regardless of nationality, except Filipino citizens and holders of permanent resident visa issued by the Philippine government, who within 14 days immediately preceding arrival in the Philippines, has been to China and its SARs

- Temporary ban on Filipinos from travelling to China and its SARs

Airport authorities said Sunday afternoon that foreigners who have traveled from China will be sent back to Hong Kong if they arrive before Monday midnight. Authorities, however, are leaving airline companies to deal with this.

"It all depends to the airlines. I think kung may available flight, same flight na ginamit nila nung pumunta sila dito, 'yun din ang gagamitin [para ibalik sila sa Hong Kong,]" Airline Operators Council chairman Allan Nepomuceno said.

[Translation: I think if there is an available flight, the same flight that sent them here would be used to send them back to Hong Kong.]

Flights to and from China and its SARs to the Philippines will continue, airport authorities said, but only Filipinos would be allowed to land in the country. Filipinos, meanwhile, will be barred from boarding planes heading to China and its SARs.

Cebu Pacific and AirAsia have cancelled flights between Manila and mainland China.

Cebu Pacific is cancelling flights between the country and Hong Kong and Macau from February 2 until February 29. All other flights to and from mainland China (Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shenzen) remain cancelled until March 29, 2020.

AirAsia, meanwhile, is cancelling all flights between mainland China and its SARs, and the Philippines "until further notice." These include flights between Manila, Kalibo, and Cebu, and Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau.

Philippine Airlines also issued an advisory saying it was cancelling all flights between Manila and Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xiamen, Quanzhou, and Macau until February 29.

The infectious diseases task force also recommended the establishment of a repatriation and quarantine facility and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for Filipinos and permanent resident visa holders coming from any place in China and its SARs.

Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal, however, said Filipinos coming back to the country from China and its SARs would only have to be quarantined in their homes, where they would keep in touch with an epidemiologist who would check in with them through calls twice a day.

"Taking into consideration the concerns raised by key government officials and health experts, the President made an informed decision and has agreed to adopt this recommendation and implement it immediately as additional precautionary measure to protect Filipinos and everyone in the Philippines," said Go, who also echoed the proposal.

The senator clarified that they are not "singling out" Chinese nationals amid this recommendation.

"I wish to emphasize that we are not singling out Chinese nationals. This order covers all travelers from China to the Philippines, regardless of nationality. We emphatize with China given what they are going through but we are doing this to protect the country and its people," Go said.

Over the past week, some groups called on the public to refrain from being discriminatory, especially against the Chinese nationals following news of the virus.

Philippines reports first nCoV death

On the same day, the Philippines has also reported the first death of a patient who tested for novel coronavirus, bringing to two the total number of confirmed cases in the country.

The DOH said the patient was the partner of the 38-year-old female Chinese national who was first confirmed in the country to have acquired the virus, after arriving from Wuhan last January 21.

"Our persons under investigation have not been increasing rapidly. And I think, with the ban now of the President, it will be a lot easier for us kasi kakaunti na po ang babantayan nating papasok ng Pilipinas (because fewer individuals entering the Philippines will be monitored)," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

As of this morning, a total of 305 people had died from coronavirus in mainland China, according to the country's National Health Commission.

The total number of confirmed cases worldwide has increased to 14,380, a CNN International report says.

At least 36 patients who showed symptoms were under observation as of Sunday.

Government efforts so far

Airports and seaports across the country are still checking temperatures of travelers.

All entry and exit points to the Subic Seaport have checkpoints where all foreigners are required to get their temperatures checked, while random checks on Filipinos are conducted.

"While we already have a ban on travelers of nationals who are coming in from China, as instructed by the President, I think this is really more of a precautionary measure for all of us," Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Wilma Eisma told CNN Philippines.

Eisma said SBMA officials will report people who have fever to the nearest hospital, the Bureau of Quarantine or the Regional Epidemiological Surveillance Unit.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the DOH is already eyeing the naval station at Caballo Island, off Cavite province, and the drug rehabilitation center at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija as a potential quarantine area for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Wuhan.

The Department of Tourism, on the other hand, said that it has already released to tourism establishments guidelines in handling guests against the nCOV.

The Office of the President said Duterte on Monday will be presiding over the next meeting of the Task Force, including other concerned agencies.