36 Chinese nationals denied entry to Philippines amid travel ban

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 8) – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) blocked the entry of 36 Chinese nationals who had travel history to Macau following the travel ban imposed on visitors from China’s special administrative regions due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The immigration bureau said in a statement Saturday that the foreigners were intercepted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday upon their arrival from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. BI port operations division chief Grifton Medina said all of them were referred for health screening at the Bureau of Quarantine before they were booked on the next available flight to Cambodia's capital, their point of origin.

Medina said immigration officers learned during inspection that the visitors have been to Macau on February 1. The country's temporary travel restrictions dictate that foreign tourists are not allowed to enter the Philippines if they have been to mainland China, where the 2019-nCoV outbreak started, Macau and Hong Kong, in the past 14 days.

The ban exempts Filipino citizens and foreigners who hold Philippine-government issued permanent resident visas directly coming from the affected areas.

Initially, Philippines only restricted the travel of tourists coming from Hubei province, but after it reported the first 2019-nCoV death outside of mainland China, the DOH recommended expanding the ban to include other Chinese provinces and semi-autonomous regions in the world’s most populous country.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said they are now requiring both foreign and Filipino passengers from abroad to completely fill out and submit their arrival cards at the immigration booths, which are meant to assist health and police authorities to trace the passengers who may have come in contact with a confirmed 2019-nCoV case.

“Previously, only foreign passengers arriving at the airports are required to fill out … arrival cards while Filipinos are obliged to fill out embarkation cards when they leave the country,” the bureau said.

BI said its immigration regulation division has been “strictly” checking whether the foreign tourists who wish extend their stay in the country have a history of travel to China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days from their arrival. Visa extension applicants are also covered by the temporary restrictions, it added.

"We have developed a series of checking, double-checking, even triple checking to ensure that we assist our health authorities in monitoring the travelers. We do what we can to help prevent the spread of this virus," Morente said.

Morente also reissued his appeal to airlines to "do their share in implementing the travel ban and prevent the entry of foreigners from the areas of concern".

“All airlines and ships have been instructed not to board passengers covered by the ban,” Morente said, adding that the bureau is studying the possibility of imposing fines against violations.

The worldwide death toll from the new virus has reached over 700, mostly recorded in China. Globally, the virus has sickened more than 34,400 people across 27 countries and territories, CNN said Saturday, citing China’s National Health Commission.