After US, PH bans 7 more countries due to new COVID-19 variant

Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 | photo

China not included in travel restrictions

FOLLOWING a recent ban on foreign travelers from the United States, the Philippines has expanded the restrictions to seven more countries to prevent the transmission of a new, more infectious COVID-19 variant.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, January 6, approved the recommendation of the country’s Departments of health and foreign Affairs to include Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, and Brazil on the travel ban list. On Friday, Austria was added to the restrictions, starting Sunday.

Foreign passengers who have been in any of the aforementioned countries within 14 days prior to their arrival in the Philippines cannot enter the country from January 8 to 15, 2021.

However, foreign diplomats and officials from international organizations are exempt from the restriction.

“Local/accredited foreign diplomats and international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations shall be exempted from quarantine protocols provided they will undergo RT-PCR test upon arrival at the airport, execute an undertaking, and observe strict 14-day quarantine,” the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said Wednesday.

Foreign dignitaries who shall observe existing testing and quarantine protocols upon arrival, as well as those with medical and emergency cases, including their medical escorts, are also exempted.

The seven new countries joined the list of countries under the Philippines’ travel ban, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, and Spain.

Restricted travel from the United States began on January 3.

Filipino nationals coming from the countries covered by the travel ban are permitted to enter the Philippines, provided that they undergo a 14-day quarantine regardless of a negative COVID-19 swab test result

Meanwhile, travelers from countries not included in the travel ban list will be “endorsed to the Local Government Units (LGU) upon yielding negative RT-PCR results at the point of entry.”

“Despite negative results, LGUs are strongly urged to ensure that travelers complete their 14-day quarantine period either at a facility or at home,” the DOH said.

China not included in PH travel ban list

China will only be included in the Philippines’ travel ban after international agencies confirm that the new COVID-19 variant is detected there, Malacañang said Thursday, January 7.

“Hindi pa po iyan nari-report ng mga international agencies na kumpirmado. Ang alam lang po natin ay media reports (International agencies have not yet confirmed these reports. What we know are media reports),” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in a Palace briefing.

Earlier reports have said that a Chinese woman who returned to Shanghai after studying in Britain had the new COVID-19 variant.

Roque assured that once it has been confirmed, the Philippines would expand the travel ban list to include China.

“So antayin po natin iyong confirmation; at kung mayroon naman pong confirmation, siyempre isasali rin sila sa listahan (Let’s wait for a confirmation and when there’s a confirmation, we will include China on the list). As of now, wala pa pong (there’s no) confirmation,” he said.

The DOH on Tuesday, Jan. 5, said that the list of countries included in the Philippines’ travel ban will be “regularly updated.”

“The list of countries included in the travel restrictions shall be regularly updated to include countries who will officially report the detection of the variant,” the agency said.

The DOH added that it will make recommendations, along with the DFA, on which countries should be included in the travel ban.

A new country may be banned if its government reports the detection of the variant in its official channels, or makes an official notification to the International Health Regulations.

“Unofficial reports, including those reported by media outlets, do not qualify as official sources and therefore cannot be used as basis in recommending travel restrictions from a specific country,” the DOH said.

The IATF, meanwhile, is studying the possibility of including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the travel ban.

“Right now, if the traveler is coming from the 21 countries, he will not be allowed to enter.

The only exemption if you’re an OFW but there is a move that even OFWs will be included but it’s still being studied,” Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a virtual forum on Monday.

So far, no OFW has caught the new strain, according to Bello.

“Once we find an OFW contaminated by this new COVID-19 variant, this might be a factor that will move the IATF-EID to consider including them in the restriction,” he added.

The labor chief also revealed that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is concerned about the shortage of quarantine facilities for OFWs.

“I just had a meeting with OWWA administrator Hans Cacdac and he is apprehensive that we’ve run out of quarantine because we are repatriating at least 1,000 to a maximum of 3,500 OFWs a day,” Bello said.

A total of 327,511 OFWs have been repatriated since the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs started its COVID-19 repatriation flights in 2020.

Of the figure, 231,537 were land-based OFWs coming from at least 90 countries while 95,974 were seafarers from more than 150 cruise ships, oil tankers, and other bulk vessels.

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