MANILA (3RD UPDATE) - The Philippines is allowing Filipino migrant workers stranded in their home country to return to their jobs in Hong Kong and Macau, officials said Tuesday, amid a travel ban on China and its territories because of the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said returning Filipino workers have to make a “written declaration that they know the risks of going back” before being allowed to leave the Philippines for the Chinese territories.
“The only reason why we have a travel ban [is] because the President is concerned about their safety. But if they themselves are requesting, they know the risk,” Panelo told reporters in Malacañang.
Members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases agreed to exempt stranded Filipino migrant workers from the travel ban to the 2 Chinese territories, the Department of Health said.
“IATF-EID redefined the exemptions from travel restrictions based on thorough risk assessment of the current situation,” the DOH added.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay initially announced the development on Twitter, saying, "OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) returning for work in Hong Kong and Macau have been [exempt] from the outbound travel ban by the IATF-EID, subject to certain procedural formalities."
Manila imposed travel restrictions with Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19, which originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Aside from migrant workers, the government is also allowing permanent residents of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Filipinos leaving for studies abroad to travel to the two Chinese special administrative regions.
Meanwhile, Filipino citizens and their foreign spouses and/or children, and holders of diplomatic visas regardless of nationality are allowed entry in the Philippines coming from Hong Kong and Macau. But they need to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Several OFW groups have appealed to government to let them return to the Chinese financial and casino hubs as they feared losing their jobs.
The Philippines earlier lifted its travel ban on Taiwan after a protest by the latter's government and members of the Filipino community there.