PRESIDENTIAL spokesman Harry Roque yesterday urged foreigners from countries with confirmed cases of the new variants of the COVID-19 virus, including the United Arab Emirates, to hold off any plans to purchase tickets and travel to the Philippines while members of the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) discuss whether to extend or lift the travel restrictions it has earlier issued.
Roque said the possible extension or lifting of the restrictions against more than 30 countries, plus the possibility of including the UAE in the travel ban list, was the top agenda during the task force’s meeting Thursday.
“The travel restrictions imposed by the President is subject to extension upon approval of the IATF and it is the number one agenda. So do not buy tickets if you would come from those places and you are not a Filipino and if you would arrive on or about the 15th of January),” he said.
The Philippines has banned the entry of travelers 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, the United States, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Austria China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, and Oman, all until January 15 due to the growing number of cases in these countries caused by four new variants of the virus that caused COVID-19.
The mutated variants are reportedly more contagious.
The Department of Health has proposed the inclusion of UAE in the travel ban list on the heels of the discovery of the first case of the United Kingdom (UK) variant in the country from a Filipino male with a travel history to Dubai.
“We will be recommending to the Office of the President the inclusion of UAE in the list of countries, where the UK variant of COVID-19 has been detected,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The 29-year-old male from Quezon City who arrived in the country last January 7 from UAE tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant but his female companion tested negative.
The patient has been in quarantine since his arrival in the country.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said barangay workers who had close interactions with the patient have been isolated and tested for COVID-19.
Belmonte said the personnel, who are members of the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team, were placed in isolation shortly after news came out about the presence of the first UK variant case in Quezon City.
Upon arrival in Manila, BHERT members escorted the couple from UAE to a Quezon City hotel for the required quarantine and while awaiting the result of their swab test.
On Wednesday, the result of the test came out, showing the man had the new variant of COVID-19. Belmonte said the man was moved to an isolation facility where he is being taken cared of.
President Duterte expressed hopes that the new variants of COVID-19 will not be more dangerous than the original variant even after it was reported to be more contagious.
“May bagong monster na naman. And I pray to God really na sana, sana na hindi ito more dangerous, more toxic than the original COVID (There is a new monster. And I pray to God that this is, hopefully, not more dangerous, more toxic than the original COVID),” the President said in his weekly public address.
Duque said the male patient was confirmed to be infected with a new variant and the only known contacts of the patient were his parents who are asymptomatic and are staying at their residence.
Duque said the country is communicating with UAE about the patient.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said contact tracing efforts are already ongoing for the 159 co-passengers of the patient on board Emirates Flight No. EK 332.
Of the total, there were 92 (58%) who have been contacted, of which 52 (64%) have responded.
The DOH noted that of the 23 that were seated in the four rows in front, behind, or at side of the patient and his girlfriend, 15 (65%) have been contacted with 12 (80%) having responded.
“Those who did not respond had unattended phones, number cannot be reached, wrong number, or rejected calls of contact tracers,” noted Vergeire.
She said local epidemiological surveillance units have already been tapped to physically locate cases and determine their health, laboratory, and quarantine statuses. – With Gerard Naval and Victor Reyes