By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte issued on Friday a travel ban on Chinese nationals coming from Hubei, China and other places where confirmed cases of the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) have been reported.
The travel ban was issued following the confirmation by the Department of Health (DOH) of the first case of the virus in the country.
In a statement issued on Friday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President issued the travel ban order upon the recommendation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and his long-time aide Senator Christopher “Bong” Go.
“The President has issued a travel ban to Chinese nationals coming from the Hubei province of China where the nCoV originated, as well in other places in China where there is a spread of the disease,” he said.
“It will last until the threat is over given that that the safety of our countrymen is foremost in the President’s mind,” he added.
In a phone call to members of the Malacañang Press Corps, Panelo confirmed that the coverage of the travel ban will be updated once the Chinese government or the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the other areas where there are confirmed cases of the virus.
“Sa ngayon sa Hubei. Yun pa lang ang alam natin, eh. Wala pang sinasabi (For now it’s just Hubei because that’s all we know. We don’t know about the other areas yet),” he said.
“Kung meron silang sinabi na, halimbawa sinabi nila na sa Shanghai meron, ‘di hindi na rin natin tatanggapin galing sa Shanghai (If they say that there is a case in Shanghai, then we will not be accepting Chinese nationals from Shanghai as well),” he added.
Panelo said the President instructed the DOH to commence the protocols it has prepared to prevent the spread of the mysterious disease.
“This raises a serious concern by the administration on the health and safety of our countrymen. The DOH has been instructed by the President to commence the protocols it has prepared for such an eventuality to contain the disease and neutralize its transmission and spread,” he said.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, chairman of the Senate health committee, for his part said President Duterte and concerned government officials are also studying the possibility of imposing temporary travel restrictions on those coming from other places affected by the infection.
“In addition, a meeting has been scheduled by the President next week with medical experts and key government officials to discuss all necessary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Go said. “Rest assured that the Duterte administration takes this threat seriously.”
Go is a former special assistant to President Duterte.
“I am appealing to the public to cooperate with authorities in order to ensure the safety of everyone,” he said.
Early this week, Duterte said he was not keen on limiting the entry of Chinese nationals to the Philippines, saying it would not be fair as other countries also have confirmed cases of the virus. The President’s remarks earned the ire of netizens especially after the DOH confirmed the first case of the virus in the country, saying it was now time for the government to ban the entry of Chinese nationals to the Philippines.
The South China Morning Post reported that 2019-nCoV infections have been confirmed in all 31 regions of China, with Tibet being the last to report a case. The number of infections was reported to be already surpassing the number of people infected by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) two decades ago.
The WHO also declared the 2019-nCoV a global emergency as the outbreak continues to spread outside China. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the main reason for the declaration was not because of what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries.
The new 2019-nCoV has killed 213 people and infected more than 9,700 in at least 19 other countries including the Philippines.
According to the DOH, the Chinese woman afflicted with the dreadful illness came from Wuhan, flew to Hong Kong, then to Cebu, and then to Dumaguete before finally arriving in Manila. The patient is currently confined at the San Lazaro Hospital.
Panelo, citing Duque, said the patient was being treated and isolated and there was no way that she will transmit the disease to another person.
“The hospital personnel are protectively dressed and their mouths and noses covered with surgical masks plus their hands covered with globes,” he said.
“The DOH assures us that every measure is being undertaken to contain the spread of the dreadful virus as well as monitoring and placing in quarantine those showing symptoms of having nCov,” he added.
Panelo reminded Filipinos to follow the advice of the DOH to observe personal hygiene as a preventive measure. The DOH advised the public about hand hygiene, proper coughing etiquette, consuming enough water, cooking food thoroughly, and immediate consultation when experiencing the symptoms of the virus.
Duque, likewise, urged the public to avoid contact with those showing symptoms, farm animals, shaking hands, the brushing of cheeks or “beso-beso,” and even fist bumps.
He also discouraged the public from eating raw meats including rats, lizards, and other exotic animals.
In a statement, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar backed President Duterte’s decision to impose an indefinite travel ban on incoming travelers from the entire province of Hubei and other places in China where the disease has spread, saying such undertaking was necessary.
He likewise asked the public to heed the precautionary measures and safety advisories being promulgated.
“Please avoid crowded places as much as possible, use mask and gloves, and practice of proper hygiene, in order to reduce any exposure to and transmission of the 2019-nCoV,” Andanar said. (With a report from Mario Casayuran)