Philippines considers lifting Macau and Hong Kong ban

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 15) – The Philippine government is ‘looking into’ removing the travel restrictions imposed on visitors from China’s special administrative regions as protective measure amid the novel coronavirus health threat, a tourism official said Saturday.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Weekend that the travel restrictions are based on how a country or a territory implements protocols on how to address the new viral infection, officially named as COVID-19, which started in Wuhan, China.

Romulo-Puyat made the statement following the consensus among infectious diseases task force members to scrap their order to bar the entry of tourists coming from Taiwan, citing the self-administered state’s implementation of “very strict and excellent protocols in handing travelers.”

Authorities have started imposing travel restrictions on tourists from China, including its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau, two weeks ago to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, officially named COVID-19.

“Before, there was a question [on whether] people from China could go to Taiwan and come to the Philippines without detection. Now before they come here, we already know if they have been to China or not,” Romulo-Puyat said.

In the case of Hong Kong and Macau, they have yet to meet the condition set by the Philippines’ Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the official said.

Romulo-Puyat said early this week that the Philippines' tourism industry stands to lose ₱42.9 billion in revenue because of the restrictions imposed on travelers heading to or from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The secretary said the huge loss is assuming the travel ban will last for three months.

To cushion the blow, Puyat said they are working to boost domestic tourism. Some airlines, including Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia as well as hotels have agreed to come up with multiple promotions to help address the drop in their income.

Mainland China has more than 66,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with almost 1,500 deaths. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has reported 56 confirmed COVID-19 cases with one death; Taiwan recorded 18 cases and Macau, 10 cases.