The Department of Health (DOH) has lifted the travel ban to Hong Kong and Macau in connection with the coronavirus (COVID-19) scare following a decision by the 6th Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IAFT-EID), said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday.
Duque said the Task Force agreed to authorize travel to Hongkong and Macau for residents of the respective Special Administrative Regions and for Overseas Filipino Workers.
However, they need to sign a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risks involved.
The IATF-EID redefined the exemptions from travel restrictions based on thorough assessment of the current situation.
Initially, only Filipinos and holders of permanent visas travelling from China, Macau and Hong Kong were allowed entry into the country.
In the recent resolution, Filipinos and their foreign spouses or children and holders of diplomatic visas will now be allowed entry into the country subject to the required 14-day quarantine.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recro described as “a step in the right direction” the decision of the government to allow Filipinos to return to their work in Hong Kong and Macau.
He said this will save the jobs of thousands of Filipinos who were vacationing in their home country when their government imposed a travel ban to those two places.
The lifting of the travel, he stressed, rescues the stranded workers from unemployment and their families from poverty.
In their appeal to be allowed to travel back to their waiting employers who value their services, they warned that certain loss of income is greater than the possibility of being infected by the virus.
As to the latter, he said the SARS-tested health system of Hong Kong is in a better position to treat coronavirus patients than the hospitals here, and the Hong Kong government has assured that they will take good care of the people.
“Our compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau form one powerhouse when it comes to sending money to their loved ones back home,” said Recto.
He emphasized that a quarter million of them remitted close to P100 billion from 2018 to 2019. He said the economic contribution is so great that the government could either subsidize or shoulder the plane tickets of the stranded OFWs because the cost is a small fraction of their remittances of about P1 billion everyday.
As this developed, the Task Force also resoved that all Filipino passengers and crew of M/V Diamond Princess who will request repatriation will be accommodated by the Philippine government in accordance with the guidelines set by the DOH.
“We ensure that our kababayan aboard the M/V Diamond Princess that your well-being is of utmost importance to President Rodrigo Duterte and this government,” Duque said.
He said the DOH will follow strict infection control and quarantine procedures to ensure the safety of the repartriates and health workers who will man the quarantine facility./Stacy Ang