By Genalyn Kabiling
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has discouraged its personnel from taking non-essential travel to countries affected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as well as temporarily suspended trainings abroad.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Martin Meñez said the department has issued circular encouraging its personnel “to postpone/or cancel non-essential foreign travels to or through COVID-19-affected areas.”
“If an official trip is to be undertaken, to refrain from passing through China, and as of today including Hong Kong and Macau,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
The DFA has also issued a separate circular implementing a “temporary suspension of department-organized internal trainings that will require participants to take international travel, Meñez.
Apart from these precautions, he said the foreign affairs department continues to follow the health protocols issued by the Department of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China has rapidly spread to several countries, including the Philippines. More than 1,700 people died from the disease while more than 68,000 people have been infected.
The Philippines recorded three cases of coronavirus, including a death of a Chinese patient, as well as more than 400 cases of patients under investigation. The government has stepped up health precautions amid concerns of a possible local community spread of the disease.
According to Meñez, the DFA will continue to help ensure the protection of Filipinos abroad from the coronavirus outbreak. He said government advisories have been issued on health precautions, emergency hotline numbers and situation updates to Filipinos abroad.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak and we will help to ensure the protection of all overseas Filipinos,” he said.
To date, Meñez said no Filipino has been affected by the COVID-19 in China. “Our post in China continue to closely to monitor the situation, cooperate and share information with Chinese authorities to keep our information updated and hopefully the situation of no Filipino being affected will remain,” he said.
Sixteen Filipinos aboard a cruise ship in Japan tested positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the total to 27, according to Meñez. He said they are brought to the hospital for better care.
A Filipino COVID-19 patient in the United Arab Emirates receives utmost attention and treatment, Meñez said.
As part of government precautions against the COVID-19, he said the DFA has already temporarily suspended the visa issuance to foreign travelers from China and its special administrative regions. Foreigners with visa-free entry privileges to the country are also covered by the temporary travel ban.
He said the travel restrictions will be subject to regular review by the inter-agency task force.