Philippines to Saudi Arabia: Clarify scope of your coronavirus travel ban

Sofia Tomacruz
DFA Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez says the agency is also bringing cases of Filipinos negatively affected by travel restrictions to the attention of Saudi Arabia

PILGRIMS. Muslim worshippers wearing protective face masks walk in the sahn (mosque courtyard) surrounding the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque complex in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on February 27, 2020. Photo by Haitham El-Tabei/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it was seeking clarification on the full scope of the Saudi government’s travel ban, following reports that some Filipinos traveling to Saudi Arabia were denied entry over restrictions put in place due to the 2019 novel coronavirus.

“We’re quite concerned about reports of the Saudi government’s actions with regard to this particular COVID-19 issue…. We are clarifying the scope and existing policy and if there are those negatively affected we will bring (such) cases to the attention of Saudi government,” DFA Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez told reporters in a press briefing in Malacañang on Monday, March 2.

In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia earlier announced it was banningumrahpilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest sites to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases and deaths soared in neighboring Iran.

The kingdom – which hosts millions of pilgrims every year – added it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a “danger.” (READ: World ‘simply not ready’ for virus spread – WHO China mission chief)

But despite restrictions limited to pilgirms and tourist visas, Meñez said the Philippine embassy was monitoring reports of some Filipinos who were supposedly unable to enter the country for other purposes.  

Among those affected by the Saudi government’s travel restrictions was House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr who was supposed to visit and meet with overseas Filipino workers. Abante was in transit in Dubai when his airline informed him he would not be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia due to restrictions barring Filipino tourists from entering due to the coronavirus.

At the time, Meñez said the Philippine government was confirming the “exact details” of the Saudi government’s travel ban.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, several countries have imposed sweeping travel restrictions in an effort to quell the spread of the virus. The Philippines is so far imposing travel bans with varying degrees of restrictions on China, its administrative regions Macau and Hong Kong, and South Korea

As of Monday morning, the virus has killed more than 3,000 people, with 2,912 of them in China. More than 88,000 people have been infected by the virus, which has spread to over 60 countries. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.