President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday ordered a temporary stop to the entry into the Philippines of all foreign nationals traveling from China’s virus-stricken Hubei province, amid rising worldwide alarm after Beijing confirmed at least 9,692 cases with a death toll above 200.
Various major airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, as governments around the world, including Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia geared up Friday to evacuate their citizens from Hubei, where Wuhan – the epicenter of the novel coronavirus – is located.
“The President has issued a travel ban to Chinese nationals and all travelers coming from the Hubei province … as well as in other places in China where there is a spread of the disease,” Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, told reporters in Manila.
The ban will be imposed “until the threat is over given the safety of our countrymen is foremost in the president’s mind,” he said, without explaining why the Philippines was targeting travelers coming from Hubei, when the province of 60 million people was already on lock down since Jan. 23.
Chinese authorities have sealed off Hubei’s major cities to prevent residents from leaving and to try to contain the pathogen. Despite a virtual lockdown on vehicular traffic in the province, however, people were leaving and entering by foot over a bridge spanning the Yangtze River on Friday, according to a Reuters report.
Infections from the novel coronavirus have been reported in at least 15 countries, including the Philippines, which on Thursday confirmed its first case in the country. A 38-year-old Chinese woman who arrived in Manila from Wuhan via Hong Kong last week has been placed under quarantine after testing positive for the virus, which is similar to the SARS pathogen.
The woman had flown to the central Philippine cities of Cebu and Dumaguete, and local authorities were taking steps to trace the people who may have been in contact with her.
“She is presently confined at San Lazaro,” Panelo said, referring to a government hospital near the health department, adding that the patient was presently “being treated and isolated.”
On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global emergency. Authorities said the infections had already surpassed the total in the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which killed about 800 people.
Six nations outside China have also reported at least nine cases of human-to-human transmissions, including Thailand, which has the second-highest number of cases after China.
Dr. Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary of the Thai Ministry of Public Health, told reporters on Friday that first person to contract the virus in the Buddhist-majority country was a Bangkok taxi driver, who was likely infected by a visitor from China.
“We discovered this as we expanded the examination to those who do not have a history of traveling to China but have related worked with Chinese people,” Sukhumkarn said.
Sukhum also confirmed five new cases since Tuesday, raising the country’s total cases to 19.
As countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, Thailand’s health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said Bangkok was coordinating with Air Asia for an Airbus A320 plane to repatriate 161 Thais.
Indonesia, meanwhile, was preparing to send a military plane to Hubei to evacuate 243 of its nationals – who are mostly university students – after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Friday ordered that they be brought back home and quarantined for 28 days, the state-run Antara news service reported.
“The aircraft we will use is a large-bodied one, so all Indonesians ready to be evacuated can be flown directly without a stopover,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.
Singapore, in a statement issued by its health ministry on Friday, announced that it would expand its coronavirus-related entry and transit restrictions to include any visitors who had traveled to mainland China in the previous 14 days and deny visas to all Chinese passport holders, beginning late Saturday.
“There is a growing possibility that more individuals from other parts of China may be infected with the virus,” the statement said. “We are likely to see a sharper rise in the local transmission of the virus in Chinese cities beyond the Hubei province in the coming days.”
Bangladeshi airliner to bring nationals home
In Dhaka, airport authorities said that a Biman Bangladesh Airlines plane with four doctors had departed on Friday to evacuate hundreds of Bangladeshis from Wuhan.
“So far, 361 Bangladeshis of Wuhan have registered and showing willingness to return home,” Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told a news conference.
The repatriated Bangladeshis, including 18 children, will be quarantined for 14 days at the Ashkona Hajj camp near the airport, Momen said.
“Those who are coming are not sick but we don’t want to take any risk,” he said. “When they are diagnosed as virus-free, we will let them go after 14 days.”
There are about 3,000 Bangladeshis in China, including 500 in Hubei province, most of them are students living in Wuhan, Masudur Rahman, deputy chief of the Bangladesh Embassy in China, told BenarNews on Friday.
There have been no reports of any Bangladeshi infected with the pneumonia-causing virus, he said.
Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok, Jesmin Papri in Dhaka and Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report.