RESPONDING to Malacañang’s orders, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has temporarily suspended the issuance of visas to travelers coming from China and its two special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau.
“In view of the developing situation of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China and its Special Administrative Regions, the Philippine Foreign Service Posts are temporarily suspending the issuance of visas, effective immediately,” the DFA said in a statement.
Covered by the directive are travelers coming from China, Hong Kong, and Macau. It also includes foreigners who, within 14 days immediately preceding their arrival to the Philippines, have been to China, and its Special Administrative Regions.
The DFA added even travelers coming from countries not required to secure visas when going to the Philippines will not be allowed entry if they had been to China, Hong Kong, and Macau recently.
Exempted from the ban, apart from Filipinos and those issued with Philippine resident visas, are foreigners who members of the delegation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and efforts to combat the virus.
Last Sunday, President Duterte ordered the temporary travel ban to and from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau amid the threat of the nCoV.
The DFA also announced hotlines for Filipinos in China in need of assistance.
“During emergency situations, Filipinos in China may contact the hotline numbers of the Philippine Embassy in Beijing or the nearest Consulate General in their area,” said the DFA.
The hotlines are: Philippine Embassy in Beijing: (+86) 139-1118-0495; (+86) 138-1112-0334; Philippine Consulate General in Chongqing: (+86) 158-2397-2513; (+86) 158-0805-7032; Philippine Consulate General in Guangzhou: (+86) 139-2409-9636 (+86) 135-7000-8063;
Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong: (+852) 91554023; Philippine Consulate General in Macau: (+853) 66981900; Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai (with jurisdiction over Wuhan and Hubei): (+86) 139-1747-7112; Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen: (+86) 139-0603-6614; (+86) 189-0592-1595.
Filipinos working in the different parts of China, including Hong Kong and Macau, who recently returned and vacationed in the Philippines will not be allowed to return to their places of employment due to the existing travel ban, the Bureau of immigration (BI) said yesterday.
Immigration spokeswoman Dana Sandoval, during the Laging Handa briefing in Malacanang, said the government understands the concerns of the Filipinos affected by the travel ban and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Employment Overseas Administration will assist them to ensure they keep their jobs.
“Given the situation, I’m sure everyone understands and each country has been conducting their own restrictions when it comes to travel because of the virus, people will understand that we are doing, this government is doing this for the protection of everybody,” Sandoval said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Ernesto Abella, in the same briefing, said the Philippines is preparing to repatriate 40 Filipinos from Hubei province in China. Abella could not give specifics but said it would be coordinated with the Chinese government and subject to their protocols.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar assured the public the Duterte administration is taking necessary actions to quell the spread of nCoV.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will provide a cash assistance of P10,000 to OFWs affected by the ban.
Stranded OFWs, according to acting Labor Secretary Renato Ebarle, will be accommodated at the OWWA Halfway House while arrangements for their travel to the provinces are being made.
Ebarle added the government will also assist them in their transport back to their places of origin.
Around 300 OFWs, mostly bound for Hong Kong and Macau, were stranded at the airports yesterday.
The Blas Ople Center called on the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration to promulgate the official declaration of a temporary deployment ban to China and its two special administrative regions (SARs).
“For starters, the POEA needs to convene its Governing Board to convert this travel ban into a temporary deployment ban while specifying the labor destination countries or territories to be covered,” said Susan Ople, head of the Ople Center.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said he is considering locking down the PNP Academy, the National Police Training Institute and other training facilities to prevent students from getting infected by the novel coronavirus.
Gamboa added the PNP has readied a Chemical, Bilogical, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive or CBRNE team to assist concerned agencies in the repatriation of Filipinos from Wuhan, China where the virus is believed to have originated.
The local government of Parañaque will inspect Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) and big hotels in the city as part of the precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Olga Virtusio, City Health officer, said she will personally visit different establishments and will prioritize the big ones.
At the House, Quezon Rep. Angelina “Helen” Tan, chair of the House committee on public health, underscored the need to give the DOH additional budget to combat the virus.
The lawmaker is expected to file a bill seeking a P1 billion supplemental budget for the DOH today.
“It is about time that Congress approved a supplemental budget to fight the spread of nCoV in the country and protect Filipinos from this deadly virus,” she told reporters in a press conference.
Tan said the DOH earlier submitted to her office an additional request for P900 million budget but she increased it to P1 billion so the DOH will have an additional P100 million buffer fund.
The supplemental budget will be used “to beef up the budget requirements of various DOH offices.”
These offices are the following: Disease and Prevention Control Bureau for its logistics and commodities; the Epidemiology Bureau for its surveillance; the Health Facility Development Bureau for its health facility preparedness; the Health Emergency Management Bureau for its quick response; the Bureau of Quarantine; the Health Promotion and Communications Service; and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or RITM.
Tan said it is high time that the RITM is strengthened “because currently, it has only 50 beds for patients with infectious diseases requiring tertiary care, seven of which are for persons under investigation (PUI) for nCoV.
The lawmaker said she would also file a resolution to look into the country’s preparedness for health emergencies in light of the report if the Global Monitoring Board or GPMB, which is an independent body that assesses how ready we are for a worldwide emergency.
“The central finding of the report is that the world needs to proactively establish the systems needed to detect and control potential disease outbreaks such as adequate investment, building stronger systems and strengthening coordination mechanisms,” Tan said.
“We need to be proactive. If we waited until the first case of nCoV has been confirmed before we acted, it could have been too late a hero for us,” she added.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has called on the House committee on tourism and on economic affairs to start working with the Department of Tourism (DOT) to assess the short- and medium-term effects the nCov on the tourism and travel industry, saying measures should be taken to cushion impact of the problem and harness other tourism markets.
“We acknowledge the necessity of the decision of some airlines to cancel flights and the government’s imposition of temporary travel ban from Hubei, China and other provinces of China that are seriously affected by the dreaded 2019-nCov, but we still have to prepare a plan to lessen its impact.” Cayetano said in a statement.
He said while the government is intensifying measures to prevent the spread of the 2019 nCoV, the House of Representatives “wants to work with the tourism and services sector to ensure that tourism growth will not be derailed in the next few months.”
Cayetano also stressed the need for the country to be ready in case the outbreak is prolonged.
“It should not be a just a wait-and-see attitude because we don’t want our tourism industry to suffer,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Victor Reyes, Rod Lagusad, and Wendell Vigilia