MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has issued travel restrictions to all foreigners coming from China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg and Oman after these countries reported cases of the new strain of COVID-19, presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced yesterday.
This brings to 33 the total number of countries and territories where the Philippine government has imposed a ban on travelers until Jan. 15.
“Prohibition on entry to take effect Jan. 13, 2021 at noon (12:01 p.m.) until Jan. 15, 2021, subject to the recommendation of the IATF,” Roque said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Filipinos coming from these countries may still return to the Philippines, provided that they will subject themselves to swab tests and the mandatory 14-day quarantine even if they test negative.
Luxemborg’s Ministry of Health and its National Health Laboratory has confirmed that a first case of the British coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 following its sequencing of samples covering period Dec. 19 to 29. Jamaica has also recorded new cases of the new strain from four travelers from the United Kingdom, reports said.
The highly-contagious new COVID-19 strain was also reported in Pakistan and Oman.
President Duterte earlier ordered travel restrictions on all foreign travelers coming from Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, the United States, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan and Brazil, in an effort to prevent the UK variant from entering the country.
The President also issued similar bans to some countries due to recorded cases of the new South African strain.
Starting Jan. 15, the United Kingdom will be introducing pre-departure testing requirements for all inbound passengers to England.
The Philippine embassy in London posted on Facebook the advisory of the UK Department of Transport on mandatory COVID-19 testing introduced to bolster border measures.
All international arrivals to England, including UK nationals, are required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure.
Passengers will be subject to an immediate fine of £500 if they fail to comply with the new regulations on pre-departure testing.
“Passengers arriving from all international destinations will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for England to help protect against new strains of coronavirus circulating internationally,” the Department of Transport said.
All passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of test result.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that starting next week, inbound passengers arriving by boat, plane or train will have to take a test within 72 hours before departing the country they are in, to help protect against the new strains of coronavirus such as those seen in Denmark and South Africa.
“We already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of COVID-19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions,” Shapps said.
The Philippine embassy in London urged Filipinos in the UK to heed the advice of the British government as England entered its toughest nationwide COVID lockdown since March.
“We urge the Filipino community to heed UK government advice by staying at home and postponing all non-essential travel,” the embassy said in a statement.
The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday belied a circulating social media post that a new variant of COVID-19 is now in the country.
In a statement, the DOH said that to date, the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) has not detected the United Kingdom variant, or any new variant of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The DOH said it is closely working with PGC in order to intensify on-going bio-surveillance efforts against any new variants of the virus.
It called on the public to refrain from “disseminating unverified information which only serves to create panic and confusion.”
“Whether or not a new variant is detected, the DOH reiterates that strict adherence to minimum public health standards is the best defense against COVID-19,” the agency noted.
It urged the public to continue practicing health protocols “across all settings to lower the rate of infection and reduce the risk of viral mutation.”
According to Health Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire, there are four variants of COVID-19 that are now in the radar of the DOH.
“There are already three that we have mentioned and then this Nigerian variant, although there is not much evidence as yet for this. We are looking at these four variants,” she added.
Aside from the UK variant, the DOH is also looking at the South Africa and Malaysian variants.
Earlier, the PGC reported that there was no new variant found in the 305 positive swab samples they subjected to genome sequencing earlier. These samples came from travelers affected by the travel ban and local cases in the Philippines.
Vergeire said the DOH was able to collect more than 500 specimens and they will also be sequenced by PGC. Results are expected within the week.
The samples came from passengers arriving from affected countries, the Visayas and Mindanao and areas with clustering in Metro Manila.
“We want to expand the coverage of collections so we will be able to find this variant in case it is already here,” she added. – Rudy Santos, Pia Lee-Brago, Sheila Crisostomo