Philippines Expands Ban on Foreign Visitors to Ward off New Coronavirus Strains

Dennis Jay Santos and Jeoffrey Maitem
Davao, Philippines
2020-12-29
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Philippines Expands Ban on Foreign Visitors to Ward off New Coronavirus Strains Passengers wearing personal protective equipment, to prevent being infected by the coronavirus disease, queue up at check-in counters in Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, July 9, 2020.
[Reuters]

The Philippine government on Tuesday widened an international travel ban to include visitors from 18 countries and a territory in order to keep out new and highly contagious strains of the coronavirus disease. 

The Philippines had already banned – and then extended a ban – on non-Filipinos coming from the United Kingdom, after a new SARSCoV2 variant called VOC 202012/01, was detected in the British Isles around two weeks ago.

This variant – which is 70 percent more contagious than the previous known COVID-19 strain, according to British officials – has spread to 18 other countries and Hong Kong. On Tuesday, the government added foreign citizens traveling from those places to its temporary entry ban.

“This is a precautionary measure put in place by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in preventing the entry of second COVID-19 strain which was recently detected,” according to an advisory signed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

In addition to visitors from the United Kingdom, the Philippine ban now covers travelers from Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Israel, Lebanon, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada.

Another new variant, 501.V2, was detected in South Africa after the variant was reported in Britain days earlier.

Overseas Filipinos returning from the proscribed countries will be let in but required to undergo a 14-day quarantine, said Silvestre Bello III, the labor secretary.

“You can come home for the holidays, for the New Year, upon the strict order of our president,” he said, noting that around 60,000 to 100,000 Filipino workers were expected to come home from abroad during that time.

‘Strict quarantine’

Foreign travelers who were already in transit, or who had been in any of the 19 foreign places two weeks before entry into the Philippines and who arrive before Dec. 30 will allowed in. They will, however, have to follow “strict quarantine and testing protocols,” the advisory said.

These protocols include the observation of a full 14-day quarantine at a government facility “notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR [Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction] test result,” said Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman.

“Outbound travel to countries with reported new variants shall be subject to the existing protocols of the Philippines and the entry protocols of the respective countries,” Roque told reporters.

Currently, the government allows Filipinos to leave the country for non-essential travel, such as tourism. Employers are also allowed to send their Filipino employees abroad. And Filipinos with employment contracts, such as nurses, are allowed to leave.

Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration chief Eric Domingo announced on Tuesday that the agency had approved its first clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate –one being developed by Janssen, a Belgian unit of Johnson & Johnson.

On Tuesday, the Philippines recorded 886 new cases and 38 deaths related to COVID-19. The country altogether has detected at least 471,000 cases of the disease – the second highest number in East Asia after neighboring Indonesia, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Indonesian travel ban

On Monday, the Indonesian government closed its frontiers to almost all foreign nationals for two weeks – starting on the first day of the new year – to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus strains.

“[We are] temporarily closing Indonesian borders, from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14, for foreign nationals from all countries,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi told an online news conference on Monday.

High-ranking foreign officials, however, will be excluded from this temporary entry ban, because they already have to follow strict health protocols during their visits.

Foreign visitors arriving in Indonesia until Dec. 31 will be allowed to enter the country provided they show negative PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test results from their country of departure. This result has to be valid for 48 hours, officials said.

After the test, they would be required to undergo a five-day isolation period, after which they would have to take another PCR test, Retno said.

As of Tuesday, Indonesia had recorded 727,122 cases of coronavirus infections, with 21,703 COVID-19 related deaths, according to the government.

Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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