Philippines-India relations

Locsin supports India travel ban as COVID-19 cases surge

Sofia Tomacruz
Locsin supports India travel ban as COVID-19 cases surge

DEADLY SURGE. Patients suffering from COVID-19 get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital in New Delhi, India, April 15, 2021.

Photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr says the proposed travel ban would have no foreign policy implications as it would be done for public health and safety

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on Tuesday, April 27, voiced support for a proposal to impose a travel ban on arrivals from India, the new center of the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks. 

On Twitter, Locsin said the proposed ban was raised among members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“I have suggested to the IATF that a travel ban be imposed on all our good friends in the entire Indian subcontinent. It’s not personal; it’s for everyone’s safety for now,” Locsin said.

Asked about the implication of a travel ban on the Philippines’ foreign policy, Locsin said there would be none as a ban would be implemented for public health and safety.

“It is not an original thought. It came from IATF and was told to me for its foreign policy implications. I said there are none for we mean it with only the best intentions for everyone’s safety and with an abiding affection and admiration for India, the pharmacy of the world,” he added. 

India has been facing a deadly surge in recent weeks, with infection rates soaring, hospitals running out of bed space and oxygen tanks, death tolls quickly rising, and the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant. The current “storm” of infections, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, has “shaken the nation.”

In a separate briefing on Tuesday, Philippine Ambassador to India Ramon Bagatsing Jr said the Philippine government should consider imposing a travel ban, as other countries have, though he said the decision would be up to the wisdom of scientists and health officials in Manila.

“We just give our reports to Manila that it is very, very serious here. We cannot underestimate this virus. Definitely, if other countries are stopping the travel of India to their countries, that is something our government should seriously consider also,” he said. 

Bagatsing said there have been no direct flights between the Philippines and India since 9 years ago and that flights connecting the countries through the United Arab Emirates have so far banned travelers coming from India. The Middle East has also suspended the transit of passengers coming from India, he added.

No move yet

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Tuesday that the IATF has yet to discuss a possible travel ban on returning Filipinos coming from India.

“There’s none from our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) because the policy has been all OFWs, ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos), upon the directive of the President, must be allowed to travel back home,” Duque said in an interview with CNN Philippines. 

He added that government officials have also yet to tackle the COVID-19 India variant – called B1617 – which is believed to be driving the surge in infections there.

“The Philippine Genome Center has not reported to the IATF whether this has evolved to become a variant of concern. It is still considered a variant under investigation. And the same is true with the WHO’s take on this particular Indian variant, which is not confined [to] India and was discovered in other countries as well,” Duque said.

On Monday, April 26, India logged over 352,000 new COVID-19 infections, setting another world record for daily cases.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters on Monday that the India variant of COVID-19 has not been detected in the over 5,000 samples that underwent genome sequencing.

Bagatsing said there are some 2,000 Filipinos in India, 80% of whom are housewives. “About 20” Filipinos are currently in isolation, he added, while 2 others died on Monday. – with reports from Bonz Magsambol/ 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.