The Department of Foreign Affairs has temporarily stopped issuing visas to Chinese and other foreign nationals traveling here from China, Hong Kong, and Macau as part of efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV), which has killed more than 360 people.
In an advisory posted on Sunday, the DFA said the suspension was necessary due to the “developing situation of the 2019-novel coronavirus.”
The DFA also banned the entry of foreign nationals who have been to China 14 days before their visit to the Philippines.
Those with visa-free entry privileges and transit passengers who have also been to China are also covered by the ban, the department said.
Filipinos, including those with jobs in China, are also covered by the temporary travel ban.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said they would coordinate with work agencies to protect the jobs of Filipinos who have work permits in China but cannot go back because of the travel ban, Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval said.
“All Filipinos will not be allowed to depart for Hong Kong, China, and Macau. The OWWA and the POEA will do their part to ensure that the jobs of Filipinos abroad will remain despite the travel ban,” Sandoval said in a press briefing.
A large number of Chinese nationals were stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport while some chose to extend their stay at their hotels as Immigration authorities started imposing the expanded travel ban for foreigners coming from China and its special administrative regions.
The Chinese nationals, most of them tourists, were stranded at the airport and waiting for assistance from the Chinese Embassy after major airlines canceled flights to and from the different parts of China because of the nCoV outbreak.
Sources from various hotels in Manila also told Manila Standard that some of their guests from China decided to extend their stay in Manila for fear of the infectious disease in their homeland.
“We have so many Chinese guests staying at our hotel but they chose not to go home at the moment,” said a hotel worker in Manila.
Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said his agency immediately implemented the expanded travel ban, hence all foreign nationals, regardless of their nationality, coming from China and its special administrative regions will be turned back and not allowed to enter the Philippines.
He said Filipinos and Philippine permanent resident visa holders will be allowed to enter subject to a 14-day quarantine to be carried out by the Bureau of Quarantine.
Morente said that the ban includes passengers who have been to China, Hong Kong, and Macau in the last 14 days.
“We have sent a notice to airlines and shipping agents requiring them to screen passengers before boarding to restrict the arrival of aliens who have visited the areas of concern in the past 14 days,” Morente said.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a temporary ban on travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau Sunday.
The ban also disallows the departure of Filipinos going to China and its administrative regions regardless of visa type.
Over the weekend, the Department of Health announced two confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with one fatality—the first nCoV-related death outside of China.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Immigration suspended the issuance of Visas Upon Arrival for Chinese nationals, in an effort to slow down the arrival of Chinese tour groups.
Immigration officers have been instructed to refer to foreign nationals who came from Hubei province to the Bureau of Quarantine.
Travelers from Hubei were later barred from entry altogether before the ban was expanded to include the whole of China and its two administrative regions.
“We urge everyone to temporarily refrain from unnecessary travel, and to bear with the government as we implement this measure,” Morente said. “Let us work hand in hand to ensure that the country is protected from this virus.”
The Department of Labor and Employment, meanwhile, urged all Filipinos working overseas to take the necessary precautions and to immediately report any suspected cases of nCoV to Philippine overseas labor offices.
Citing World Health Organization guidelines, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III reminded Filipino workers abroad to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, and to wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand rub, and to avoid contact with farm or wild animals.
He also advised Filipino workers to avoid visiting crowded places and hospitals, and to wear a mask if necessary, and to consult a doctor immediately if they develop any of the symptoms, such as fever or respiratory problems.
Local airlines announced the cancellation of all flights between the Philippines and China in compliance with the directive of President Duterte to protect Filipinos from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Philippine Airlines said effective immediately flights between Manila and Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Jinjiang) and Macau are canceled until Feb. 29.
“We are constrained to cancel these flights in compliance with the Feb. 2, 2020 directive of the President of the Philippines and the related order of the Philippine Civil Aeronautics Board, which aim to protect the Philippine public by helping to contain and neutralize the spread of the novel coronavirus,” PAL said.
“Our all-Filipino flight and cabin crew members are likewise included in this ban,” PAL said.
“This new entry and exit restrictions compel us to cancel flights, and thus we seek the cooperation and understanding of our passengers whose travel plans will be affected,” it added.
Cebu Pacific also canceled flights between the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Macau until Feb. 29, 2020.
All other flights to and from China (Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shenzen) remain canceled until March 29, 2020.
Air Asia Philippines, meanwhile, canceled all flights from Manila, Kalibo, and Cebu to and from Chinese cities, Hong Kong and Macau.
The three airlines said their affected passengers may get refunds with service fees waived.
Passengers may also rebook their flights with rebooking service fees waived, once the travel bans are lifted and flights to and from China, Hong Kong, and Macau are reinstated.
PAL on Monday also advised air travelers going to the United States to allot at least four hours at the airport before departure time, as each passenger will need to undergo extra screening that includes an interview on his or her recent travel history, in line with new rules imposed by the US Department of Homeland Security.
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