BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL
MANILA has expanded its travel restrictions and included citizens from five more countries, including China, in its list of foreigners who are not allowed to enter its ports.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said tourists from China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg and Oman are temporarily prohibited from coming to the country as a precaution against the transmission of new variants of the coronavirus that have infected individuals living in 33 countries.
In late December, the government imposed travel restrictions against individuals coming from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.
The list was expanded last week to include Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil and Austria after health authorities from the foreign countries monitored the presence of new COVID-19 virus strains in their shores.
The travel restrictions on the 33 countries are effective until January 15.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said four COVID-19 variants are now in the radar of the Department of Health (DOH) even as it awaits the latest results of the genome sequencing being conducted by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC).
Vergeire, in an interview, said: “There are already three (3) that we have mentioned, and then this Nigerian variant, although there is not much evidence as yet for this.”
The DOH has been on the lookout for the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, and Malaysia variants of COVID-19.
For the moment, Vergeire assured the public that there are no new strains present in the country as identified from recent whole genome sequencing activities.
“To date, we have not detected the UK variant, or any new variant of COVID-19, in any of the positive samples tested. The COVID-19 strain that can be seen in the country remains to be the D614G variant,” said Vergeire.
Vergeire said they are expecting a new batch of genome sequencing results to come out today (Wednesday) or tomorrow (Thursday) involving some 500 samples.
“We were able to collect 500 plus specimens from arriving passengers from affected countries, Visayas and Mindanao, and areas with clustering in Metro Manila,” said Vergeire.
The samples, she added, include those from the close contacts of the Filipina domestic worker found positive of the UK strain of COVID-19 in Hong Kong. The government has already identified the close contacts of the worker, who travelled from Cagayan Valley to Metro Manila for her Hong Kong trip last December 22.
“We are looking at about 30 plus results both from her hometown and in Manila,” said Vergeire.
Roque said the travel restriction against the foreign countries was jointly recommended by the DOH and the Department of Foreign Affairs.