CAB clarifies: Duterte's nCoV ban still allows flights from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 9) – President Rodrigo Duterte's travel ban that was prompted by the threat of the 2019 novel coronavirus or the 2019-nCov only applies to foreign travellers, and not Filipino citizens and holders of permanent resident-visas issued by the Philippines, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) clarified Sunday.

"The travel-ban directive of the President of February 2, 2020 is a ban on travel to the Philippines of any persons directly coming from China, Hong Kong and Macau as well as those not directly arriving from China, Hong Kong and Macau but have been to these territories within 14 days immediately preceding their arrival in the Philippines," CAB Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla said in a statement.

This means that Filipino citizens and holders of permanent resident visas can still fly directly from China, Hong Kong and Macau going back to the Philippines, and outbound flights, Chinese, Hong Kong and Macau nationals can fly back home, since they are not subject to the travel-ban directive, Arcilla said.

Flights are therefore still being operated to transport these persons, and they can be subject to quarantine procedures upon arrival.

"But these flights should carry only Filipinos and holders of permanent resident visas. This is assured by the fact that the immigration officers at the airports are strictly enforcing the travel ban. In addition, our Consular offices in those territories are no longer issuing visas for travel to the Philippines," Arcilla said.

He added that the travel ban directive is "essentially similar" to travel bans being imposed by a number of countries, as a travel ban does not necessarily imply a ban on flights.

Arcilla said "only a handful of airlines" are still operating with less frequencies to and from China and Hong Kong. This includes China Southern Airlines which flew to Guangzhou and Hong Kong Airlines which flew to Hong Kong on February 7.

He said China Southern has already reduced its daily flights from four to two, and will reduce to once a day on February 15.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific continues to fly to Hong Kong, but will reduce its number of flights from seven to two per day starting February 10.

Duterte had previously widened the ban to cover not only China's Hubei province but also the rest of the Chinese mainland and the special administrative regions following the recommendation of the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Wuhan is located in Hubei province, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

A total of 30 Filipino evacuees from Wuhan arrived at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga early Sunday morning. They are now quarantined at the New Clark City.

Fines eyed vs violating airlines

Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente earlier called on airlines to "do their share in implementing the travel ban and prevent the entry of foreigners from the areas of concern."

In a statement, he said all airlines and ships have been instructed not to board passengers covered by the ban as the agency is now studying the possibility of imposing files against violations.

"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," he said.

Both foreign and Filipino passengers from abroad were encouraged by the agency to completely fill out and submit their arrival cards while undergoing immigration arrival formalities by BI officers.

The BI’s immigration regulation division also said it is now strictly screening applications for extension of stay of foreign tourists to check if any of them have a history of travel to China, Hongkong and Macau within 14 days from their arrival.