Prior to first new variant case, UAE not on Philippines' travel ban list

January 13, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The list of countries government imposed travel restrictions on reached more than 30 nations, but the United Arab Emirates where the first Filipino case came from has is not among them despite having "limited cases" confirmed by officials there.

Philippine authorities on Wednesday said a 29-year-old Filipino coming from Dubai had tested positive for the B117, or the variant first detected in the United Kingdom and is said to be more infectious.

He had left for the UAE with his partner on December 27 and nearly two weeks later, returned to Manila on January 7 through the Emirates airline with flight No. EK 332.

In Dubai, he visited malls, groceries and tourist sites with his partner who has tested negative but remains under quarantine, per Health Secretary Francisco Duque II at last night's coronavirus task force meeting.

Scant details have so far been given on the picture, and it remains uncertain as to where he contracted the B117.

But UAE officials reported their first infections from the new variant on December 29, which they said are "limited cases and received from abroad."

Before leaving the Philippines, the health department said the couple also had no exposure to a coronavirus patient, nor had they traveled outside Quezon City, where the male is a resident in Kamuning.

It thus leaves the question of why government has not included the UAE in its travel restrictions, despite the country confirming cases even before the year ended. 

The health department has yet to respond to a request for comment.

But in a January 5 statement, the agency said the list would be regularly updated on the basis of two sources: official detection in a country through official government channels, or an official notification to the International Health Regulations.

It added that it would not take in unofficial sources including those coming from media. The UAE report came from its National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, through a briefing by Omar Al Hammadi, an official government spokesman.

Barring entry to foreign travelers would mean Filipinos coming from territories on the restricted list would still be allowed to enter the Philippines, but they would have to undergo a two-week quarantine regardless of their COVID-19 test result.

International tourists from countries not on the list would also have to finish a 14-day quarantine after a negative RT-PCR test result at point of entry.

Contact tracing began for other passengers of the flight the Filipino couple was on upon returning to the Philippines, with the DOH telling passengers to seek help from their local community response teams or BHERT.

Health officials also sought the help of the interior department for the tracing efforts, including to have a separate team for the close contacts of supposed B117 cases.

The department has since said the mode of transmission of the new variant remains the same, that is, through droplets. But it has cautioned the public to strictly follow protocols and avoid crowded places.

A technical working group has also been formed to monitor and identify new variants, as well as to make policy proposals.

Experts stressed, too, that the public should not let their guard down, as the variant could lead to another spike in cases and raise anew the possibility of a return to hard lockdowns that have affected millions and hurt the economy badly.

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