The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has extended travel restrictions on at least 33 countries until January 31, 2021 as recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) in an effort to curb the entry of the more transmissible Covid-19 B117 variant.
In the expanded travel restrictions, foreigners coming from, or have been to the 33 travel-restricted countries within 14 days from their arrival in the Philippines shall be excluded or denied entry upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other airports and seaports in the country.
Currently, the government is implementing a travel ban on aliens coming from the United Kingdom (UK), Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, People’s Republic of China, including Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, and the United States.
Also included in the travel ban are those coming from Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Austria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, and Oman.
“We expect further decrease in the number of travelers in the coming weeks due to the reported new variant of Covid-19,” said BI Commissioner Jaime Morente. “We shall continue implementing existing protocols on arriving Filipinos from the 33 countries,” he added.
Morente likewise reminded international travelers to practice social distancing and hygiene while traveling. “We are implementing strict social distancing measures in the immigration areas at the airports, to ensure that contact is minimized during travel,” he said.
Studies found that the B117, or the UK variant, is nearly 70 percent more transmissible than the original Covid-19 variant. However, there is no evidence yet that could show it is deadlier than the previous variant.
The government’s fresh directive came after the new variant was detected in a 29-year-old Filipino male who arrived home from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 7.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there was no decision yet to prohibit the entry of foreign travelers from the UAE.
“The President will be the one to declare that, if ever. The list is for extension of restrictions and not for new,” he said when asked about the possible inclusion of UAE in the travel restriction.
Roque said the IATF-EID had already directed the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to strictly implement issuances against airlines that allow the boarding of passengers who are prohibited from entering the Philippines, pursuant to the travel restrictions imposed by the Office of the President and the IATF-EID.
The travel ban was supposed to expire on Friday.
Filipinos from areas covered by the travel restrictions were initially allowed to come home, on condition that they undergo an “absolute” facility-based 14-day quarantine, notwithstanding a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result.
However, the IATF-EID resolution issued on Thursday states that the temporary travel ban is applicable to “all travelers coming from or transiting” through the banned countries.
Roque said the exemptions to the entry restrictions may be issued by the IATF-EID technical working group, in coordination with concerned government agencies.
“The IATF, in coordination with other agencies, may issue implementing guidelines on the exemptions to these entry restrictions,” he said.
Following the detection of the new UK variant in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) on Friday said that they will prioritize genomic sequencing of inbound international travelers who tested positive using RT-PCR test.
However the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) is expanding capacities to enable the shift to active biosurveillance to include sequencing of other RT-PCR positive samples.
As of 4 p.m. of January 15, the Covid cases surged to 496,646.
An additional of 2,048 cases were logged with 551 recoveries and 137 deaths.
Of the total number of cases, 5.4 percent (27,033) are active cases, 92.6 percent (459,737) have recovered, and 1.99 percent (9,876) have died. With Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco and PNA