HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday said the government believes it is not yet necessary to impose travel bans on Iran, Italy, Singapore and Japan despite the continued spike in cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in these countries.
In a press conference, Duque said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases that the Department of Health leads is making a day-to-day assessment of situations in the four countries and has come to the conclusion that imposing a travel ban is not yet called, for now.
“After giving the IATF-EID the health risk assessments, the decision was not to include them in the travel ban,” said Duque, adding the decision may still change.
Asked to comment on reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs has stopped issuing visas-on-arrivals to Iranian travelers, Duque said the answer should come from the DFA.
“All I know is Iran has the highest case fatality rate at 7.3 percent. It appears that they have very rapid transmission and high fatality rate. That’s scary,” said Duque.
Based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 2,036 COVID-19 cases in Italy, 1,501 cases in Iran, 268 cases in Japan, and 108 in Singapore.
The IATF-EID has imposes total travel bans on China and partial travel restrictions on Macau, Hong Kong, and South Korea. A total travel ban had also been imposed on Taiwan but it has since been lifted.
Duque said there is no need to quarantine nearly 200 Filipinos set to be repatriated from Macau, saying they did not come from COVID-19 “epicenters.”
“The repatriates from Macau will be treated as PUMs (persons under monitoring),” he said, adding the 196 returning Filipinos will be required to be placed under home quarantine.
“The local governments will be monitoring them for fever, cough, colds, and other symptoms,” said Duque.
Meanwhile, 19 more Filipinos from the Diamond Princess cruise ship are also expected to be repatriated from Japan after being discharged by hospitals where they were treated for the virus.
DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the 19 are among 40 Filipinos who have tested positive for the virus. The other 21 have been repatriated to the Philippines.
A total of 80 Filipinos from the cruise ship had tested positive for the virus.
Vergeire said 16 persons currently quarantined at the New Clark Center in Tarlac are now considered persons under investigation (PUIs) after manifesting symptoms of the disease.
Of the 16, she said 15 have tested negative and have been brought back to the NCC.
“We have one additional case that is still being tested and monitored. He had diarrhea and had to be brought to a referral hospital,” said Vergeire.
The DOH also reported that there are now 662 PUIs nationwide as of March 4, according to its daily COVID-19 case tracker.
Of the 662, 39 are still isolated in different medical facilities while 620 have recovered and have been discharged.
Vergeire said the admitted PUIs include 19 individuals with travel history to South Korea that manifested symptoms upon their return home.
Duque also said the DOH has reiterated its appeal for lawmakers to provide them a P2 billion supplemental budget to combat the virus.
“We are awaiting the approval by the Committee on Appropriation. We have sent a letter two weeks ago. But as you well know, there have been changes in the committee chairmanship in the House,” said Duque, adding he doesn’t know how this has affected the agency’s request.
For the moment, he said the DOH will have to do with the P530 million budget allocations for “other supplies.”
The DFA yesterday confirmed earlier information that three Filipinos have tested positive for the virus in Singapore.
KUWAIT REQUIRES PROOF
The Kuwait government is set to require expatriates from the Philippines and nine other countries to present proof they are free of the virus before they are allowed to enter the Middle East country.
The new protocol, according to an advisory issued by the Kuwait Directorate General of Civil Aviation, will take effect on March 8. Aside from the Philippines, also covered by the new protocol are expatriates from India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Georgia and Lebanon.
The oil-rich kingdom has reported 59 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.
Less than a month since lifting the deployment ban to Kuwait, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is set to slow down the processing of papers of overseas Filipino workers bound for the Middle East state.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the scale down will affect all OFW sectors, including skilled, semi-skilled, professionals, and household service workers.
The labor chief said this is due to the burdensome requirements set by the Kuwaiti government in employing OFWs.
“They will be requiring so many additional requirements from our workers. And that’s giving more burdens to our workers. So we might as well go to other countries, where there are not so much requirements,” said Bello.
FEELING THE BRUNT
Almost 4,000 workers have felt the brunt of the virus, according to the DOLE.
In a press conference, DOLE Assistant Secretary Dominic Tutay said at least 55 business establishments have either been forced to suspend operations or alter their business hours due to the virus.
“Based on the regional reports that we have gathered, there are 35 establishments who submitted reports. And these establishments will be adopting flexible work arrangements that involves around 3,255 workers,” Tutay said.
“We also have around 20 establishments, who went into temporary suspension of operations. It involves a little over 300 workers,” she added, noting the affected businesses are from Regions 6, 7, and 12 and are in the tourism sector.
To help prevent more adverse effects, Bello said they are encouraging companies to adopt flexible work arrangements. DOLE Undersecretary Ana Dione said having flexible work arrangements is better than closing shop.
“The purpose of this flexible work arrangement is if this situation prolongs, companies will suffer losses and the first thing they will do is retrench workers. We don’t want that to happen. We want to prevent that,” said Dione.
While several local workers have started feeling the effects of the virus, such is not the case for OFWs, according to Bello.
He stressed that displaced OFWs in COVID-19 affected countries are merely “isolated incidents.”
“We are not losing workers in the overseas. We don’t have that type of lost of work, especially if you are talking of Hong Kong, Japan, and Macau, and even Taiwan. There are no incidents of employment loss,” said Bello.
“There are isolated cases. But, by and large, there is no large rate of unemployment to our OFWs,” he added.
Bello said that among the “isolated cases” they have received are those from Hong Kong, where OFWs were dismissed because their employers are relocating.
According to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, they are helping 40 displaced domestic workers from Hong Kong, 35 of them having been terminated by their employers. – With Ashzel Hachero