Duterte hesitant to expand COVID-19 travel ban to other countries

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2020 09:43 PM | Updated as of Feb 27 2020 05:20 PM

An employee from a disinfection service company sanitizes the floor of a bus garage in Seoul on February 26, 2020. Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters

MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he could not implement a total travel ban on other countries despite the rising number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases around the world since this risks isolating the Philippines.

Speaking to reporters in Malacañang, the President said expanding the travel ban to more countries might “lock down” the entire Philippines.

“No, I cannot do that. No country can do that,” he told reporters in Malacañang.

“There cannot be a total travel ban and you do not allow anybody to enter the... You are going to lock down the entire Philippines for that. It ain't that way,” he added.

Asked what Duterte meant with the possible lockdown, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said it was in reference to other countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“Ibig niyang sabihin sa…may ibang bansa (He meant in other countries),” Panelo told reporters on Thursday.

The Philippines on Wednesday barred its citizens from traveling to South Korea for the meantime in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19 with the exemption of migrant workers, students, and permanent residents who are required to sign a written declaration signifying their knowledge of the risks of traveling there.

Travelers coming from the South Korean province of North Gyeongsang, where several cases have been confirmed, meanwhile were barred from entering the Philippines “effective immediately” as agreed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, Malacañang said.

The task force, however, will still conduct a risk assessment of the situation in Korea within 2 days to analyze whether it is necessary to expand the travel ban.

Aside from South Korea, Manila also banned travel to China and territories Hong Kong, and Macau as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. Filipinos based in Hong Kong and Macau were later allowed to return given that they file a waiver.

A travel ban on Taiwan was also imposed for a brief period but it was lifted immediately after Taipei threatened sanctions against the Philippines, including scrapping visa-free privilege for Filipinos.

Lifting the travel ban on China and its territories, however, would be up to the Department of Health, Duterte said.

“I will leave it to the DOH and the guys who are in charge whether it would be safe or not, to do it,” the President said.

“I am not a medical person. I am a lawyer. So what a lawyer should do before making any decision is to consult experts and the expert in this case is the DOH.”

The Philippines at present has no confirmed cases of COVID-19. It earlier confirmed 3 cases, all foreign nationals who came from the Chinese City of Wuhan, where the virus originated. One of the patients died but the 2 others recovered.