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Travel ban stays as Phl reports 70 new coronavirus cases

04 February 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Strict screening in airports everywhere is in force in bid to stamp out the coronavirus

The Philippines has kept firm in its decision to ban flights to and from Hong Kong, Macau and China, despite appeals for its partial lifting so Filipinos who work and live in the affected areas will be allowed to leave the country.

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta Romana has reportedly interceded on behalf of the hundreds of stranded Filipinos, particularly the overseas Filipino workers who could lose their jobs, but did not appear to make headway.
President Rodrigo Duterte met his cabinet yesterday, Feb 3, to discuss the measures taken to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, but did not mention the appeal made on behalf of the stranded passengers.

Nor did the President talk about the travel ban at a news conference held after the meeting in Malacanang, where his main message was the coronavirus was not as scary as it is thought to be.
CE Lam promised compassion in dealing with Filipino domestic workers stranded in HK
But Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam did express concern about the plight of the stranded Filipino workers during a media briefing earlier in the afternoon, during which she announced the broadening of the border closure with China.

She said FDWs stranded in Hong Kong because of the travel ban will be helped “in a compassionate manner”. She also said she had asked the Labour and Immigration Department to see what they can do to help the workers.
In addition, she said she would meet with consuls general in Hong Kong to explain to them what her government has been doing to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Consul General Raly Tejada acknowledged CE Lam’s pledge to help and said he was looking forward to discussing the Filipino workers’ plight with her as he was himself worried for them.
CG Tejada is appealing for Filipinos in HK to be allowed to fly back in
But he was disheartened that Ambassador Sta Romana’s appeal to get Filipino migrant workers and residents back to Hong Kong did not seem to have been taken up during the Cabinet meeting in Malacanang.

The developments came as Philippine health officials disclosed that the suspected number of coronavirus cases in the country had reached 80, with nearly all the patients being Chinese nationals.

Two of the cases, identified as a couple from Wuhan City, have been confirmed. The man reportedly died within 24 hours before the news conference announcing his infection and death was held.

Reports said the two had been in the Philippines since Jan. 21 and had gone to Cebu and Dumaguete before ending up in Manila, where they fell ill. People who had been in close contact with them, especially in the various hotels they had stayed in, are being sought.

Of the 80 suspected cases, 10 proved negative of the coronavirus while 67 are in isolation in hospitals.

United Filipinos in Hong Kong have denounced the travel ban as coming too late, as it was declared only after a death from the coronavirus had occurred, and after hundreds (if not thousands) of Chinese were allowed to enter the Philippines freely.

But the group also called the ban an “exaggerated response” for including Hong Kong and Macau.

The group called on the government to allow Filipinos to return to Hong Kong, especially OFWs whose jobs have been left hanging in the balance because they are unable to leave.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has reported its 15th confirmed coronavirus case, and the first human-to-human infection. The patient is said to be the mother of a 39-year-old male coronavirus case from Whampoa Garden in Hung Hom.

The 72-year-old woman had not traveled during the 14-day incubation period, and was quarantined at the Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village after her son was taken ill.

As a further step to stop the spread of the virus, all border crossings have been closed, except for the Hong Kong -Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, Shenzhen Bay Port and the international airport.

Masked Filipina workers enjoy their day off despite the virus outbreak
Closed as of Feb 3 were the two major land crossings at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau, as well as the Hong Kong –Macau Ferry Terminal.

The decision to further restrict cross-border travel did not seem to impress public health workers at the frontline of the battle to contain the global epidemic. They vowed to continue escalating their strike over a five-day period until the government bows to their demand for a total closure of the border.

Concern is mounting as China’s death toll from the contagion rose to 362, with a total of about 17,500 confirmed cases, mostly in Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter.

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