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Chaos as Phl imposes travel ban on China, HK and Macau

03 February 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Cathay Pacific staff at NAIA Terminal 3 tell Filipino passengers that they aren't allowed their HK flight  

Hundreds of travelers, many of them Filipino migrant workers, were left stranded in airports in the Philippines and Hong Kong, after the Manila government imposed a travel ban today, Feb. 2, for people coming in - and out - of China, Hong Kong and Macau.

The ban, first announced on a radio show by Senator Bong Go, came as government health officials disclosed that a second patient in the Philippines, a 44-year-old man from Wuhan, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and died.

The victim was the first to die of the Wuhan coronavirus outside of China. He was the companion of the 38-year-old woman who was the first confirmed coronavirus case in the Philippines.


The travel ban carried a mysterious prohibition against Filipinos leaving the country for China and its two administrative regions, resulting in many overseas Filipino workers bound for Hong Kong being held up at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

Officer-in-charge of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office Antonio Villafuerte said he had been receiving anxious calls from employment agencies whose recruits had failed to board their flights.

“But I am as surprised as they are,” said Villafuerte. “We didn’t get any advisory from the head office about the travel ban so maybe they were also not told in advance.”

All that his office could do for now, he said, was to advise the agencies and the workers to check with the airlines if their flights would go ahead as scheduled, or postponed. Those on the way home could probably postpone their vacation as they won’t be allowed to return to HK under the travel ban. 

Polo is also awaiting word from the Department of Labour and Employment on when the ban might be lifted so Hong Kong-bound workers could begin to leave again.
Congen Tejada (left) and OIC Villafuerte say they are working on getting the OFWs back to their HK workplace
Consul General Raly Tejada has also expressed concern about the OFWs stranded in various airports in the Philippines.

“I am terribly sorry for what they are going through,” he said, then added that the Consulate is appealing to the government to reverse the ban on the OFWs leaving for Hong Kong. “I am praying hard,” he said.
Also among the stranded today were a few Filipino residents who were supposed to return to Hong Kong after a vacation or work trips.

Among them was a Filipina who was held up at the airport, but her foreigner-husband was allowed to leave.

Pam Smith said, “I didn’t even make it past immigration.” Her husband reportedly tried to ask for humanitarian consideration on her behalf, but “they said he can stay with me instead,” he said.

Apart from preventing Filipinos to leave the country for China, Hong Kong and Macau, the ban also applies to any person, regardless of nationality, who flies in directly from the three places, or had visited them 14 days before traveling to the Philippines.

Filipino citizens are allowed to come in but they will be put under self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival in the Philippines.

The ban appeared to have been anticipated by flag carrier Philippine Airlines, as all its flights to and from Manila were cancelled on Feb 1 and 2. Later it issued an advisory that all flights to the affected destinations won’t resume until Feb 29.

Cebu Pacific followed suit, announcing later in the day that it was cancelling all its flights between Manila and Hong Kong and Macau from Feb 2 to Feb 29. Flights to China will remain suspended until Mar. 29.

Filipinos appeal to Cebu Pacific crew to allow them to board their flight to HK
According to Manila airport authorities who held a news conference on the presidential directive, those who will be put on self-quarantine will be visited regularly by doctors and epidemiologists who will monitor their condition.

And while Filipinos will not be allowed to travel to China and its two administrative regions, foreigners will be able to, which raises another question as to the logic – or the real reason - behind the ban. Hong Kong and Macau, and even China, have not barred Filipinos entering their territories, so the Philippines banning its own nationals from traveling to these places raises a big question.

A Filipino living in Hong Kong with ties to a Philippine Airlines supervisor claims the government has been using the planes of the flag carrier to fly Chinese nationals to the city of Guiyang, from where they could apparently return home to locked down Hubei province, or be quarantined.

A check of the website of Philippine Airlines showed all its flights from Hong Kong to Manila and back, from Feb 1 (when the ban was not even in force)  to Feb 5 had either been “sold out” or “not offered.” The same signs show up for flights from Manila to Hong Kong until Feb 6-8.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that some 500 Wuhan residents who were in the Philippines would be flown back to their hometown, amid an outcry from Filipinos about the possibility of them bringing the coronavirus to the country.

Only Cathay Pacific Airlines appeared oblivious to the planned ban. Its flight to Cebu City earlier today, CX921, landed as scheduled at about 11:30am at Mactan International Airport and was immediately put in a lockdown.

Government officials reportedly surrounded the aircraft and allowed only Philippine passport holders to alight. About 100 non-Filipinos were held inside the plane for about five hours before they were allowed to fly back to Hong Kong.

The Filipino passengers became the first group to be put under quarantine in line with the travel ban that was put in place only hours earlier.

On the flipside were the Filipinos who were prevented from leaving the country as a result of the ban, many of whom were foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.

One, who gave her name as Jackielyn, said her connecting flight from her hometown in Isabela left as scheduled, so she was surprised on being told at Manila international airport that she couldn’t proceed to Hong Kong as her Cebu Pacific flight had been cancelled.

“Kasi wala namang pasabi pero pagdating dito biglang canceled ang flight,” she said.

Jackielyn said she would spend the night at the airport, hoping to be allowed to leave for Hong Kong tomorrow, even if the airline couldn’t tell her when the ban on travel to her workplace would be lifted. She said she had loans to pay and was worried about the interest payments that would surely be levied on her if she failed to make her monthly payment on time.
Galla gets a certificate from PAL which she hopes will help her keep her job
Another vacationing OFW, Marivic A. Galla, traveled all the way from Laguna to the Manila airport for her 2pm flight but was told on arrival that the plane would leave at 7pm instead. But at 6pm she was told it had been canceled.

One of her friends said Galla was crying on the phone, thinking of her badly-needed salary that she was looking forward to getting on Feb 9. She also couldn’t contact her employers to tell them about the travel ban as they were all supposed to arrive in Hong Kong at about the same time after a week-long vacation.

Galla was worried, too, about losing her job as both her employers work and need someone to stay at home to look after their child.

Another OFW, Hylien Calado, was supposed to fly back to Hong Kong on Feb 3 but Cebu Pacific sent notice that her flight had been canceled so her employer checked online for another flight.
Calado traveled from Baguio to Manila only to be told that she was banned from boarding her CX flight
She said their websites showed that both PAL and Cebu Pacific had canceled all their flights to Manila starting Feb 1 so her employer booked a Cathay Pacific ticket for her for Feb 2.

“Confirmed naman pero pagpunta ko dito di daw kami pwede umalis kasi kasasabi lang kanina yung ban,” she said in a message.

At Manila airport, she said all Philippine passport holders were told they could not fly out to China, Hong Kong and Macau.

“Uuwi na lang po ako ulit, naiintindihan ni amo,” she said.

But going back home for Calado is not that easy, as she lives far away in Baguio City, about 450 km north of Manila, a travel of at least four and a half hours.

Two other countries today joined the growing list of those that imposed travel restrictions to and from mainland China, Indonesia and Australia. But both only banned inbound and outbound travels to the mainland, and did not include Hong Kong or Macau. 

The only other countries that have extended the restriction to Hong Kong apart from the Philippines are North Korea, Italy and Kuwait. Vietnam added Hong Kong to its China ban originally, but subsequently limited it to only the mainland.

Meanwhile, in China, the death toll from the rapidly spreading Wuhan coronavirus has risen to 304 as of today with 45 new deaths being reported within a 24-hour-period. There were 2,590 more confirmed cases, bringing the total to nearly 14,500.

The number of confirmed infections from the coronavirus is now far higher than those recorded from Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome which killed 774 worldwide between 2002-2003. The epicenter of the contagion then was Hong Kong, where 299 people died.

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