BY Jocelyn Montemayor and Osias Osorio
THOUSANDS of incoming passengers from China, Hong Kong and Macau were prevented on Sunday from entering the country as the Bureau of Immigration implemented a temporary ban on all travelers coming from these areas as ordered by President Duterte amid the threats of the novel coronavirus.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the President also gave the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases “authority, if necessary, to ban the entry of travelers (coming) from other areas with confirmed widespread 2019-nCOV ARD.”
Panelo said the President would meet with members of the Task Force today, Monday, along with officials of other concerned government offices to discuss the 2019-nCov and the other possible actions of the country.
He said that after the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global emergency last Jan. 31, the Task Force recommended the adoption of guidelines for the management of the 2019-nCoV which Duterte had approved.
“With the safety of the country and all persons within our territory as prime considerations, and upon further advise from the Department of Health that the virus has affected all regions of China, the President has immediately approved,” the measures which included the observance of temporary travel ban and the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The temporary travel ban covers the entry of any person, regardless of nationality, except Filipino citizens and holders of Permanent Resident Visa issued by the government, who are directly coming from China and its Special Administrative Regions; or within 14 days immediately preceding arrival in the Philippines, has been to China and its Special Administrative Regions.
The ban also temporarily bars Filipinos from travelling to China and its Special Administrative Regions.
“The Task Force was also given the authority, if necessary, to ban the entry of travelers from other areas with confirmed widespread 2019-nCOV ARD. For clarity, the ban is on the person of any nationality, except that of Filipinos particularly specified above, coming directly from the places above-mentioned and arriving in the Philippines, and not of any flight,” Panelo said.
Panelo said the President also ordered the establishment of a repatriation and quarantine facility, but did not mention where the facility would be located.
He said the President, through Executive Order Salvador Medildea, directed all heads of departments, agencies, offices and instrumentalities of the government, government owned and/or controlled corporations (GOCCs), government financial institutions (GFIs), state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local government units (LGUs) to adopt, coordinate and implement the said travel ban and quarantine guidelines, and other measures the Task Force may subsequently issue on the matter.
He said Duterte also placed on standby the Armed Forces and the PNP to provide the necessary assistance to ensure the implementation of the said measures.
Last Friday, the President initially temporarily banned the entry of all travelers coming from Hubei province, said to be the epicenter of the virus.
The Manila International Airport Authority, after a meeting with airline representatives, said they will no longer entertain passengers that will pass through China, Hong Kong and Macau and vice versa to prevent the entry of the deadly virus.
Arriving passengers, mostly Chinese, Indians, Dutch and French, were dismayed after they were stopped from disembarking while waiting to be brought back to their ports of origin.
Three Philippine airlines on Saturday cancelled flights to China, joining many others around the world that have done the same, after health officials confirmed the Philippines’ first case of coronavirus.
Carriers Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and the local unit of AirAsia Group Bhd said they were cancelling flights starting this month.
“In light of developments related to the novel coronavirus, Cebu Pacific will be cancelling all flights between the Philippines and mainland China from Feb. 2 to March 29, 2020,” the airline said.
The country’s largest budget carrier, which flies to Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shenzen, said it also reduced trips to Hong Kong and Macau.
Philippine Airlines said it would cut the number of flights between Manila and Greater China by over 50 percent. It would continue to serve Filipinos and Chinese nationals returning from the Lunar New Year holidays.
But further reductions are expected in the coming weeks based on daily assessments and guidelines from government authorities, the flag carrier said.
Philippines AirAsia, another low-cost carrier, said flights to and from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, were suspended until March 1 “because of the current health situation.”
Thousands of Filipinos live and work in Hong Kong, mainly as househelp, and in Macau gaming hub as employees of integrated casino resorts.
Cielo Villaluna, PAL spokesperson, all flights going to mainland China, including Hong Kong and Macau, were canceled yesterday as of 5 p.m.
AirAsia Philippines said it is cancelling flights between the Philippines and China starting Feb. 2 further notice from the government.
Charo Logarta-Lagamon, Cebu Pacific director for corporate communication, said all flights going to mainland China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Shenzen, have been canceled from Feb. 2 up to March 29, 2020.
The Senate committee on health chaired by Sen. Christopher Go will conduct a hearing on Tuesday to determine government action on how to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
“The objective of the hearing is to know how prepared the government is with the nCoV – the health facilities, quarantine area for returning Filipinos, travel restrictions, all of the immediate impact…Even netizens and government bashers are invited to join so they can air their sentiments and criticisms against the government which is not doing any help at the moment,” Go said.
Senators welcomed the decision of President Duterte on the temporary travel ban.
“Drastic but necessary,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Sotto also called on the government to put up “one information agency” which will serve as the official mouthpiece in giving updates and other important matters concerning the nCoV.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the temporary ban is not about racism.
“The enemy here is the virus, and not the Chinese,” Hontiveros said.
Majority floor leader Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri recommended the extension of visas given to Chinese already in the country to spare them from being infected once they return to China.
Sen. Richard Gordon encouraged local and foreign businessmen to invest in the medical supplies business due to the shortage of face masks due to its growing demand. – With Raymond Africa, Myla Iglesias, and Reuters