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 banning “umrah” pilgrims 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