Duterte not keen on stopping tourist traffic from China
President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he was not inclined to order a ban on tourist traffic from China, but was willing to repatriate Filipinos in China who want to come home amid an outbreak there of a new coronavirus that had already killed more than 130 Chinese and sickened nearly 6,000 others.
Mr. Duterte was asked what he thought of suggestions for a travel ban. He said he would not support any recommendation for a travel ban, as it would be unfair.
“Not yet at this time,” Mr. Duterte said, adding that there is still no confirmed case of the new virus in the Philippines.
He said what could be done was to limit visitor traffic to the country, although he would not order it now.
“It could include China, but at this time I’m not for it. It would not be fair,” he said.
As for Filipinos in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei province in central China, Mr. Duterte said the government was ready to ferry them back to the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said late on Tuesday that it would arrange special flights to evacuate Filipinos in Hubei who want to get out amid the outbreak of virus that causes a pneumonia-like illness.
About 50 Filipinos, mostly working in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei and epicenter of the outbreak, have asked to be taken home, the DFA said.
There are about 300 Filipinos in Hubei, in central China. Authorities have sealed off Wuhan and 16 other cities in the province to prevent the further spread of a new strain of the coronavirus that emerged late in December, causing an illness with symptoms like pneumonia and spreading to other parts of China and more than a dozen other countries.
The Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai, the country’s diplomatic post nearest to Hubei, will immediately start the repatriation process in coordination with local authorities and “subject to China’s rules on disease containment, including immigration clearance and quarantine process,” the DFA said.
Under procedures agreed upon by the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Diseases, the evacuees from China will be placed on quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the new virus, before they will allowed to rejoin their families.
“Everything is still being coordinated and considered so no details yet (about the evacuation). As was mentioned, it may be safer to stay put,” Assistant Foreign Secretary Eduardo Meñez told reporters on Wednesday.
“Any repatriation would need to consider their safety, in coordination with Chinese authorities’ approval,” he added.
For the majority of Filipinos in Hubei who have decided to tough out the outbreak, they should comply with local health advisories and seek medical attention if they feel ill, the DFA said.
Officially called 2019-nCov, the new coronavirus is similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus that killed nearly 800 Chinese and sickened thousands of other people in China and other countries in 2002-2003.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reiterated on Wednesday that there is still no confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the Philippines.
A 29-year-old man under medical observation at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila died on Wednesday morning, but the hospital director, Dr. Edmundo Lopez, told reporters that the man was not a confirmed case of the new coronavirus.
Lopez said the man died of pneumonia, but had twice tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
“The patient was seen with varying symptoms upon admission. He had cervical lessions, swollen lymph nodes, skinny, and had anal warts. He was tested for HIV and the [tests were] positive,” he said.
The man, who was from Yunnan, China, was admitted to the hospital on Monday. Lopez said the samples from the man had bee sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City for new coronavirus tests.
The man had been one of 23 out of an original 27 foreigners under medical observation for the new virus. On Tuesday, the DOH said four of the 27 had been cleared and discharged. On Wednesday, the agency said the others were awaiting the results of their tests from the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia.
Foreign travelers who had been put under medical observation in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and in Kalibo, Aklan, had tested negative for the virus.
In Cebu City, Mayor Edgardo Labella said he would ask the Bureau of Immigration to ban Chinese tourist traffic to Cebu to protect residents of the province.
But the Chinese consul general in Cebu, Jia Li, said there was no need for a ban since China had already suspended all individual and group tours to other countries.
Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo told reporters on Wednesday that the Philippines had acquired testing reagents for the virus. New tests will be done at RITM, no longer in Australia, he said.
2 Filipinos under observation
The Bureau of Quarantine is currently observing two Filipino migrant workers who returned from Wuhan.
“They are being monitored by our surveillance officer once or twice a day,” Dr. Ferdinand Salceda, quarantine director, said on Wednesday.
The Philippines has tightened its border defenses, suspending direct flights from Wuhan and halting the issuance of visas on arrival to Chinese tourists to slow down tourist traffic from China, in addition to screening all arrivals at airports. The Department of Tourism said on Wednesday that it was deferring to the DOH and the Bureau of Immigration on measures to keep the new coronavirus out of the Philippines.
The Bureau of Customs on Wednesday began tightening controls on imports from China, including used clothing.
Customs Commissioner Vincent Maronilla said the move could affect the economy, but it had to be taken as authorities were not entirely sure how the new virus was transmitted.
“[If the virus] can be carried in items that are going to be imported, very simple items, I think our priority is the safety of [our] countrymen other than the taxes we can collect,” Maronilla said.
He said the customs bureau was watching out for used clothing from China because the new virus could be transmitted from human to human.
Duque expressed approval of the bureau’s decision. “I was told [the virus] can survive on surface for seven days—all objects are fomites, including tables, desks, hankies, phones, microphones, you name it,” he said.
Ban tours from China?
Duque fielded questions about the outbreak from members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, and heard Antique Rep. Loren Legarda urge the DOH to recommend a temporary ban on visitor traffic from China.
“Since we are a heavily populated country, and we are incapable of handling a health crisis, would it not be prudent [for our government] to ban temporarily any mainland China tourist, from not just Wuhan, since the coronavirus has spread elsewhere?” Legarda told Duque.
The health chief said the suggestion may be considered as an option by the DOH, but the agency was no inclined to recommend a ban on tourist traffic from China.—REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, TINA G. SANTOS, JEROME ANING, MELVIN GASCON, ROMAR MIRANDA, NESTOR P. BURGOS JR. , DALE ISRAEL AND NESTLE SEMILLA
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