Following a recent ban on foreign travelers from the United States, the Philippines has expanded the restrictions to six more countries to prevent the transmission of a new, more infectious COVID-19 variant.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, January 6, approved the recommendation of the country’s Departments of Health and Foreign Affairs to include Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, and Brazil on the travel ban list.
Foreign passengers who have been in any of the aforementioned countries within 14 days prior to their arrival in the Philippines cannot enter the country from January 8 to 15, 2021.
However, foreign diplomats and officials from international organizations are exempt from the restriction.
“Local/accredited foreign diplomats and international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations shall be exempted from quarantine protocols provided they will undergo RT-PCR test upon arrival at the airport, execute an undertaking, and observe strict 14-day quarantine,” the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) said Wednesday.
Foreign dignitaries who shall observe existing testing and quarantine protocols upon arrival, as well as those with medical and emergency cases, including their medical escorts, are also exempted.
The six new countries joined the list of countries under the Philippines’ travel ban, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, and Spain.
Filipino nationals coming from the countries covered by the travel ban are permitted to enter the Philippines, provided that they undergo a 14-day quarantine regardless of a negative COVID-19 swab test result
Meanwhile, travelers from countries not included in the travel ban list will be “endorsed to the Local Government Units (LGU) upon yielding negative RT-PCR results at the point of entry.”
“Despite negative results, LGUs are strongly urged to ensure that travelers complete their 14-day quarantine period either at a facility or at home,” the DOH said.
The DOH on Tuesday, January 5, said that the list of countries included in the Philippines’ travel ban will be “regularly updated.”
“The list of countries included in the travel restrictions shall be regularly updated to include countries who will officially report the detection of the variant,” the agency said.
The DOH added that it will make recommendations, along with the DFA, on which countries should be included in the travel ban.
A new country may be banned if its government reports the detection of the variant in its official channels, or makes an official notification to the International Health Regulations.
“Unofficial reports, including those reported by media outlets, do not qualify as official sources and therefore cannot be used as basis in recommending travel restrictions from a specific country,” the DOH said.
Bello: Expanding travel restrictions to OFWs being studied
The IATF, meanwhile, is studying the possibility of including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the travel ban.
“Right now, if the traveler is coming from the 21 countries, he will not be allowed to enter. The only exemption is if you’re an OFW but there is a move that even OFWs will be included but it’s still being studied,” Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a virtual forum on Monday, January 4.
So far, no OFW has caught the new strain, according to Bello.
“Once we find an OFW contaminated by this new COVID-19 variant, this might be a factor that will move the IATF-EID to consider including them in the restriction,” he added.
The labor chief also revealed that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is concerned about the shortage of quarantine facilities for OFWs.
“I just had a meeting with OWWA administrator Hans Cacdac and he is apprehensive that we’ve run out of quarantine because we are repatriating at least 1,000 to a maximum of 3,500 OFWs a day,” Bello said.
A total of 327,511 OFWs have been repatriated since the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs started its COVID-19 repatriation flights in 2020.
Of the figure, 231,537 were land-based OFWs coming from at least 90 countries while 95,974 were seafarers from more than 150 cruise ships, oil tankers, and other bulk vessels.