Hontiveros calls on China: Be honest about COVID-19 situation

Bea Cupin
Hontiveros calls on China: Be honest about COVID-19 situation

A healthcare worker places a vial with a swab of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test along with other vials, after Italy has ordered COVID-19 antigen swabs and virus sequencing for all travellers coming from China, where cases are surging, at the Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy, December 29, 2022. REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters

The opposition senator makes this appeal ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s state visit to China in January 2023

MANILA, Philippines – Ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China in early January, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday, December 30, called on Beijing to be transparent and honest about the COVID-19 situation there.

Umaasa rin tayo na ang China, base sa napagkasunduang International Health Regulations noong 2005, ay maging bukas at tapat sa pagbabahagi ng mga datos at impormasyon tungkol sa tunay na kalagayan at estado ng kanilang COVID-19 infections,” she said in a statement.

(We expect China, based on International Health Regulations signed in 2005, to be transparent and honest in sharing data and information on the true state of their COVID-19 infections.)

The coronavirus has been spreading unchecked in China, as the Asian superpower further eases its COVID-19 health rules, for example ending mandatory quarantines for travelers by January 8. China was among the most stringent in its health protocols in a bid to implement its zero-COVID policy.

Countries such as the US, have imposed new COVID-19 measures on travelers from China over concerns on the “lack of transparent data” from Beijing. Japan, India, Malaysia, and Italy have also imposed stricter measures for travelers from China amid the rise of COVID-19 cases.

Beijing has called these travel restrictions “discriminatory.”

Experts have attributed the surge in China not only to the BF.7 subvariant, but also to the low efficacy of Chinese vaccines and the low natural immunity of their population.

The BF.7 subvariant, after all, has also been found in other countries. As early as October, BF.7 has started to replace the variants that were then dominant in the United States and several European countries.

Marcos is set to visit Beijing from January 3-5 for his first state visit outside of Southeast Asia. The Philippine delegation – Marcos, key Cabinet officials, and other top government officials – will be following a “bubble arrangement” to minimize the risk of exposure and infection to the virus.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that the trip is one that cannot be postponed and that China has made assurances that protocols were in place to ensure the health and safety of Marcos and his delegation.

Hontiveros also called on the administration, ahead of Marcos’ Beijing visit to review and amp up its COVID-19 health protocols for incoming tourists.

Kailangang magtakda muna ang administrasyon ng karagdagang layers of health security and safety protocols para sa mga turistang papasok sa Pilipinas ngayong bagong taon (The government must first introduce added layers of health security and safety protocols for tourists entering the country in the New Year),” said the senator in a statement.

Hontiveros wants government to scrutinize not only a tourist’s vaccination status but also to review and update the color-coded classification of countries, which restricts and regulates the entry of tourists from specific countries.

She also recommended restricting tourists from countries with surges is COVID-19 cases to “single destination entries.” The senator said this would make coordination between national and local government easier, and make testing, tracing, and treatment easier.

Hontiveros, one of two minority members in the Senate, said while she honors acknowledges the freedom of movement, the country should also make sure to guard its borders to prevent the unchecked spread of COVID-19 and its new variants.

Kung isinara natin ang mga borders natin noon, naiwasan sana ang ganoong karaming nagkasakit at namatay, at mas naihanda ang ating health system (If we had closed our borders then, we would have prevented the death of thousands and could have prepared our health system better),” she said, alluding to the government’s decisions in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

The Philippines has rapidly eased its COVID-19 health protocols throughout 2022. Tourism was cited as among the main reasons for the Marcos administration’s decision to lift mask mandates for both indoor and outdoor settings. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.