MANILA - The Bureau of Customs began implementing stricter security measures this week, one of its officials said Wednesday as the country guards against the entry of the novel coronavirus which originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Customs staff in charge of inspecting imports were ordered to be in “full gear” when checking items as a precautionary measure, Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla told reporters in Malacañang.
“We are on high alert on anything that has the possibility of opening our country to the entry of the virus thru any abuse of the customs processes,” he said.
The Philippines remains free of the novel coronavirus. The government also stopped issuing tourist visas on arrival to Chinese nationals to help ensure the country remained free of the strain.
Aside from China, there are confirmed cases of the virus in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.
Deaths due to the virus had risen to 132 with nearly 6,000 people infected as of Wednesday.
The customs bureau said it was also vigilant against import products from China, which is Philippines' biggest trading partner.
“We will be extra careful. We will be very vigilant about it,” he said.
“I think yung priority namin is yung safety ng mga kababayan natin other than yung makokolekta naming buwis,” he added.
(Our priority is the safety of our fellow countrymen rather than the taxes that we could collect.)
The novel coronavirus strain can cause a pneumonia-like acute respiratory infection, health experts earlier said.
The Department of Health said the public should wash their hands frequently, hydrate well, avoid crowded places, and wear face masks to avoid getting sick.