Senators urge PH-China travel ban to stop spread of coronavirus

Aika Rey
Senators urge PH-China travel ban to stop spread of coronavirus
'There is no hint of racism or xenophobia in this policy. It is… an acceptance of the fact that our defenses and capacity to respond to a health emergency is not that strong,' says Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto

MANILA, Philippines – As the Philippines confirmed its first case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), senators are urging the government to issue a temporary travel ban to and from China.

In separate statements, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, senators Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva, and Christopher “Bong” Go supported the call.

Hontiveros proposed a temporary travel ban of at least 30 days on all individuals traveling from China, as well as travellers who passed through China within the past two weeks.  (READ: ’Novel coronavirus’ or 2019 nCoV: What we know so far)

“Our travel ban must firmly include both air and sea travel to prevent a local outbreak. This includes a temporary ban on all cruise ships from docking at any of our ports,” Hontiveros said.

Recto questioned why the Philippines has yet to implement a travel ban, saying that Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, had already announced plans to slash cross-border travel.

“I think it is time to put a temporary ‘Do not enter sign’ on our doorstep for visitors from China. Let us explain to them that we are not permanently closing our doors. This is not a permanent Great Wall. This is only during the duration of the coronavirus crisis,” Recto said.

“If many of their (Chinese) people are not allowed to travel from Point A to B in China, then why are we allowing travel from most points in China to all points in the Philippines?” Recto added.

The Senate president pro-tempore said that this was not an issue of racism.

“There is no hint of racism or xenophobia in this policy. This is an assertion of the national wellbeing. And an acceptance of the fact that our defenses and capacity to respond to a health emergency is not that strong,” Recto said.

Go, meanwhile, said that he supports the call for a travel ban but will wait for the recommendation of health officials. Go, the Senate health committee head, will hold a hearing on the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, February 4.

“Antayin lang natin ang kanilang rekomendasyon. Kung sakali, pabor ako diyan para maiwasan po itong pagkalat. (Let’s wait for their recommendation. If ever, I am in favor of this call to prevent it from spreading),” Go said in an interview with Radyo Pilinas.

Deployment to China

Villanueva, the Senate labor committee chairperson, urged overseas Filipino workers to postpone their deployment to China to minimize the risk of getting affected.

For those already in quaratined areas in China, Villanueva said: “Please follow the health protocol being observed in the area. Help our diplomatic staff there by notifying your status so that every Filipino is accounted for.”

Villanueva also urged the Department of Labor and Employment to issue a labor advisory that would remind private companies of their obligations with labor standards, particulary the Occupational Safety and Health Standards law.

“Our labor officials should seize the moment to reiterate that the health and safety of our workers must be of paramount concern to employers. Our OSHS law states this principal clearly and unequivocally,” Villanueva said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday, January 30, announced the first confirmed case of 2019-nCoV in the country. The patient is a 38-year-old woman who traveled from Wuhan, China, the ground zero of the outbreak, via Hong Kong, on January 21. 

The virus has claimed 170 lives in China and infected thousands of people in that country alone.  Travel to and from Wuhan had been restricted, as the government halted the issuance of visas to travelers from Hubei province.

The Philippines on Tuesday, January 28 had already suspended visa upon arrival for Chinese visitors due to health threat. The Civil Aeronautics Board had also suspended all airline operations between Wuhan and any destination in the Philippines. – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.