PH-Sabah border closed to travelers to prevent entry of new COVID-19 variant

Published December 30, 2020, 10:00 AM

by Nonoy Lacson

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Stricter measures have been adopted by the local government of Turtle Islands in Tawi-Tawi to prevent the entry of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from Malaysia.

Armed Force of the Philippines- Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) Commander Lt Gen Corleto Vinluan, Jr. said two Philippine Navy gunships, backed by four Naval patrol fast craft, were deployed near the sea borders of the country and the Federal State of Malaysia.

Turtle Islands Municipal Mayor Mohammad Faizal H. Jamalul told The Manila Bulletin on Wednesday, December 30, that he  personally visited Vinluan at his office to ask for help  to prevent the entry of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant to his town, and Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (Zambasulta) area in general.

Early this month, authorities of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland reported to the World Health Organization (WHO)  that a new SARS-CoV-2 variant was identified through viral genomic sequencing.

Initial analysis indicates that the variant may spread more readily between people.

Jamalul said the move to close the border was  aimed at pre-empting and  preventing the possible entry of the new coronavirus (COVID-19)  variant  in his town and in Zambasulta with Sabah, Malaysia, located only about eight miles away.

The mayor said he already imposed a local travel ban to Malaysia. 

“I already informed them (Turtle Islands residents)  that effective immediately no one is allowed to visit Malaysia to buy essential goods. Instead, just buy their goods in Bongao (Tawi-Tawi),” Jamalul said.

Vinluan said he has directed the different Joint Task Force (JTF) commanders to intensify stricter maritime patrols near the sea border to Malaysia.

Vinluan emphasized  that  the move will eventually deny entry of all ships carrying passengers, particularly from Sabah, to the Zambasulta area.

The mayor said “it is important to remind communities and health workers in the town of the basic principles to reduce the general risk of COVID 19 transmission and that of the new strain virus”.

The new variant was detected as part of an epidemiological and virological investigation initiated earlier this month following an unexpected rise in COVID-19 cases in South East England.