MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday ordered a temporary travel ban on travelers coming from Wuhan City, and the entire Hubei province in China following a recommendation from Health Secretary Francisco Duque III after the first case of the novel virus was confirmed in the Philippines Thursday, said Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommended the imposition of travel restrictions or travel ban, Domingo said it however recognized the right of its member-states to enforce measures to protect the health of its people.
WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe noted that based on some facts they already discussed, “WHO does not favor at this point in time the imposition travel restrictions.”
“We are not recommending travel restrictions. Even the Committee recommendations last evening even stated that we don’t recommend travel restrictions,” said Abeyasinghe.
He admitted that their recommendations are not binding on member-states. “They are free to make whatever decision they want,” further stated the WHO official in the news briefing the DOH office in Manila.
However, if member-states, even after the WHO declaration of a public health emergency of international concern, they should be informed of what the restrictions are and the justification for them.
He said WHO needs these informations since they are obligated to share them to other states.
Travel ban expansion
Domingo stressed the Philippine government, upon the recommendation of the Department of Health (DOH) had issued a temporary travel ban covering all travelled from the province of Hubei in China,” said Domingo in the same news briefing DOH Friday afternoon.
He said the DOH will also propose the expansion of the travel ban coverage to more Chinese provinces as new information on the increasing number of cases for the region arise.
Hubei in central China includes the city of Wuhan, is the epicenter where the pathogen is believed to have originated from. The death toll reached 213 and the number of cases approached the 10,000 mark, prompting the WHO to declare a global emergency.
The Philippines on Monday suspended the issuance of tourist visas on arrival to Chinese nationals
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, long-aide of the President also said the President and other concerned government officials are also looking into the possibility of imposing temporary travel restrictions for those coming from other places affected by the virus.
He said the President, medical experts and key government officials are set to discuss all necessary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in a meeting scheduled next week.
“Rest assured that the Duterte administration takes this threat seriously. I am appealing to the public to cooperate with authorities in order to ensure the safety of everyone,” Go added.
Go said he recommended to the President the imposition of a temporary travel ban on visitors coming from the said Wuhan and Hubei to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“I am in agreement with DOH and we will recommend, if necessary, to impose temporary restrictions of travel for those from the entire province of Hubei while assessing if there is a need to add to the list with travel restrictions more places affected by the infection,” Go said.
However, he stressed it will be improper for Philippine authorities to ban the entry of travelers from China on account of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“It will not be proper if we will single out on China alone,” he added.
Earlier, Duque emphasized that banning tourists from mainland China may cause repercussions since it is not the only country with confirmed cases of the new virus.
He said China might question why the Philippines is not doing the same for all the other countries with reported confirmed cases of nCoV.
“I strongly recommended that a temporary restriction of travelers going to Manila from Hubei province, China within the possibility that as soon as we get the risk assessment by the WHO that many other provinces are in fact reporting, increasing numbers of novel coronavirus infection, we will include them in the travel restrictions,” Duque said.
But the ban, he said, maybe expanded, enforcing a total ban on travelers coming from mainland China depending on the latest risk assessment from the World Health Organization (WHO) and announcements of the Chinese government.
He noted it was possible that more Chinese provinces may be included in the travel restrictions but added that there are already other countries too that have declared cases of the virus.
“Are we going to create an island for each country inward and close everything? What are we going to do with the countries that have already confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus?” said Duque.
He said he would rather defer to what the experts say on the matter.
“We might as well count ourselves with those countries. Meron na rin tayo. We’ll see what the experts tell us,” he said.
The WHO on Thursday has declared a global health emergency as the outbreak has claimed the lives of 170 people in China with cases reported in 18 countries, including the Philippines.
The Philippines registered its first confirmed case after a female traveler, who was among the persons under investigation (PUIs) being monitored by DOH, tested positive for the new virus.
The 38-year old Chinese woman from Yunna, came from Wuhan and arrived in the Philippines via Hong Kong on Jan. 21. She travelled to the cities of Cebu and Dumaguete and sought medical check four days later. She has remained under cloak monitoring at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
Senators agreed with the decision of the President to ban travelers coming from Wuhan and Hubei Province to contain the virus.
The ban, he stressed, would include all nationalities, including Filipinos coming from these places. But if the situation worsened, he said the prohibition would include travelers coming from all countries with the nCoV.
“But then, we should leave the decision and assessment to our Health officials. They are in a better position to assess matters rather than us armchair critics,” added the Senate leader.
“Yes. It’s better and safer for them to stay in lock down there rather than come home and be discriminated upon by authorities and even their relatives,” replied Sotto when pressed if the ban will include Filipinos. (STACY ANG/IAMIGO/CPH)