Philippines lifts Taiwan travel ban

The Philippine government's inter-agency task force (IATF) handling the novel coronavirus crisis has decided on Friday, February 14, to lift the travel ban imposed on Taiwan due to the virus.

"The lifting of travel restrictions for Taiwan has been agreed by the members of the IATF by reason of the strict measures they (Taiwan) are undertaking, as well as the protocols they are implementing to address the COVID-19," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease.

Panelo said the lifting of the ban is "effective immediately."

"Accordingly, travel may now be made by any national to Taiwan from the Philippines and vice versa," Panelo said.

Malacañang's announcement came 4 days after the Department of Health revealed that Taiwan was covered by the temporary travel ban imposed by the Philippines on mainland China and its special administrative regions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Last Monday, February 10, Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said Taiwan was included because the World Health Organization recognizes it as part of China.

Since Monday's announcement, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines has denounced the move, saying Taiwan was "wrongly included" in the ban.

The chairperson of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei warned that Taiwan could cancel visa-free privileges for Filipinos in retaliation to the ban.

But Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, speaking to reporters after the IATF meeting on Friday, said the decision to lift the ban had nothing to do with the threat to cancel visa-free privileges.

"(This is) purely on public health and safety, and of course the need to see whether there is a threat or increased risk if we didn't allow the travel from Taiwan to the Philippines," Duque said.

Asked what specific protocols observed by Taiwan made the task force decide to lift the ban, Duque said the DOH would release a more detailed report next week.

But the health chief did imply that one of the reasons was that Taiwan has not yet reported local transmission of COVID-19. Outside of China, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Vietnam, South Korea, and Australia have reported local transmission of the disease.

Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, has found itself increasingly caught up in travel restrictions aimed at China, where the outbreak has killed over 1,380 people and infected over 63,000, as of Friday.

On Friday, Panelo said the inter-agency task force will also evaluate other jurisdictions, including Macau, for possible lifting of the travel ban.

"We have said from the very start that this (travel ban) will be subject to risk assessment. This has been a temporary ban to begin with, and there hasn't been any decision by the IATF that has been set in stone," Duque said.

Health officials in the Philippines have so far probed 455 patients for the novel coronavirus, including 3 confirmed cases. Two of the cases have since recovered, while one died due to severe pneumonia because of the novel coronavirus. – Rappler.com