By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said Friday he sees no problem should the government decide to ban all trips from China to prevent a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak in the Philippines.
Pimentel, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign relations, said a temporary travel ban on all travelers coming from China is reasonable amid concerns that the 2019-nCoV would affect more people in the country.
A travel ban has been issued on Chinese nationals from Wuhan and the rest of the Hubei province as well as other infected areas in China after a 38-year-old Chinese tourist tested positive for the new coronavirus and confirmed the first case of the 2019-nCoV infection in the Philippines.
“For me, there is nothing to lose when we all adopt a heightened level of vigilance against getting sick with any airborne disease,” Pimentel said in a text message sent to Senate reporters.
“Hence, keeping our distance and not leaving residence unless trip is really important are all reasonable measures to take as far as I’m concerned.”
Pimentel said since China is already “marked as infected,” and was “in fact” known to be the source of the new virus, “then it is also reasonable for me to minimize or to even stop all trips which can be the reason for the spread of the virus.”
In a separate text message to the Manila Bulletin, Pimentel said the travel ban “is a good measure” to protect Filipinos.
“We have to also anticipate that a lot of Chinese want to leave China right now. A temporary travel ban will prevent them from being our ‘unnecessary concern’ right now, who can possibly overload our healthcare system,” the senator said, admitting that “we are not yet sure if the [Philippine] healthcare system can handle a ‘pandemic’.”
Other senators have also called for a travel ban on all those coming from China.
Meanwhile, Pimentel also supported the government’s plan to repatriate Filipinos from Hubei province, saying, “We should never abandon them.”
He stressed, though, that authorities should make sure that Filipino repatriates are not “infiltrated by non-Filipinos.”
“The repatriation will be a big test for our DOH (Department of Health). Time for them to show the nation their abilities and put their budget to good use,” Pimentel said.
The 2019-nCov was described as a “mysterious virus” by the World Health Organization, being an unknown strain of coronavirus. It reportedly originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to several other countries around the world.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said 2019-nCoV can be transmitted “via aerial droplets” or through coughing and sneezing, or direct contact. He repeatedly said that it is not as fatal as other coronaviruses.
The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus on Friday a “global health emergency” as it has spread to other countries.