On Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a temporary ban on foreigners coming from China from visiting the Philippines. This is a day before he meets with the health authorities focusing on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Acute Respiratory Disease (2019-nCoV ARD).
Malacañang announced the moratorium Sunday morning, 20 minutes before the epidemic’s first overseas death was reported by the Department of Health (DOH).
The DOH confirmed that a 44-year-old man from Wuhan, the ground zero of the outbreak in Hubei province, had died after developing serious pneumonia.
The Philippine representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the man died Saturday at San Lazaro Hospital in Santa Cruz, Manila.
It was the first death out of over 130 reported cases in about 24 countries outside mainland China.
Temporary travel ban
Individuals directly from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, regardless of nationality, are temporarily prohibited from entering the Philippines. However, Filipinos and Philippine permanent resident visa holders are exempted.
Those who traveled to China, Hong Kong or Macau in the last 14 days are also temporarily banned from entering the Philippines, regardless of nationality. Exempted to this order are Filipinos and Philippine permanent resident visa holders.
Those who were indicated as exempted are required for a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Flights going to Hong Kong, Macau, and China are also prohibited this time. Immigration Bureau said it would immediately implement the President’s order.
It said it already sent notices to airlines and shipping companies operating in the Philippines asking them to screen their passengers before boarding to prevent the entry of those who had traveled to China, Hong Kong or Macau.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) also said it had instructed all airlines operating in the Philippines to temporarily ban travelers who had been to China and its two special administrative regions from entering the country.
After the President’s order, it was enforced already at several Hong Kong flights landed on Sunday morning at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Affected travelers showed dismay
One was a flight from Cathay Pacific, which arrived at 11 a.m. There was a commotion when foreigners were not allowed to deplane and instead ordered to return to Hong Kong.
“Even those who came from the United States, and the plane was just a connecting flight from Hong Kong, were barred. Passengers were crying,” a source told the Inquirer team.
It also asked travelers who had no visas to return to Hong Kong.
The foreign travelers broadcast their frustrations on social media, complaining about the sudden enforcement of the directive. But the general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, Ed Monreal, said, “We are simply implementing [the order] given to us.”
On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency. However, trade and travel restrictions are not necessary.
Government officials, including Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Vice-President Leni Robredo, urged the government to impose a temporary travel ban upon DOH’s declaration of the first nCoV case in the Philippines.
However, the ban aims to not single out Chinese nationals alone, but all travelers who came from mainland China and major affected areas, to stop the entry of the novel coronavirus in the country.