The government has extended the ban on travelers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates until July 15, due to the threat of the more infectious and deadly Delta COVID-19 variant, Malacanang said Tuesday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the ban was supposed to expire on June 30, but was extended because of the Delta variant, which is 60 percent more infectious than the Alpha variant and apparently behind the surge in cases in other countries.
Roque, who is also the spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Task Force, (IATF) said this is the fourth time that travel restrictions were imposed on the seven countries to prevent the spread of the Delta variant that first emerged in India.
He added, however, that Filipinos in countries covered by temporary travel ban will still be allowed to return home, so long as they are covered by the government’s repatriation efforts.
The Philippine Genome Center earlier said the 17 cases of the so-called “double mutant” variant were from returning Filipino travelers. No community transmission has been reported so far.
The Department of Health (DOH), meanwhile, recommended stricter border control instead of expanding the travel ban to cover all 92 countries where the Delta variant has been detected.
“We cannot ban all of the countries affected now by the Delta variant,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in an interview on CNN Philippines. “We cannot isolate the Philippines from these countries.”
Vergeire said their recommendation is not to add additional countries to the travel ban, but to strengthen border controls.
Dr. Tony Leachon, a health reform advocate and former government advisor, earlier urged authorities to also impose a travel ban on Indonesia, which is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, and which has detected the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, Filipino workers in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the Middle East slammed the government decision to extend until mid-July its ban on Filipinos traveling home from these areas.
In a statement, the group said the travel ban is a burden on Filipino workers who are on vacation leave and want to be with their families. They also called for government assistance and blamed the administration for its “ineptitude” in handling the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Palace said starting July 1, travelers who were fully vaccinated in “green” countries or those with low COVID-19 risk will be allowed to shorten their facility quarantine to seven days, from the current 10 days.
These travelers should have exclusively stayed in a green country 14 days before arriving in the Philippines. They will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a single-dose COVID-19 shot or the second jab of a two-dose vaccine, Roque said.
Travelers will be required to take an RT-PCR test for COVID-19 on the fifth day of their quarantine, but must complete the seven days of quarantine even if they test negative.
Elsewhere in the region, Hong Kong said it would ban all incoming flights from the United Kingdom from July 1 to curb the spread of the more infectious Delta strain of the coronavirus.
Hong Kong has already banned flights from several other countries over rising cases and prominence of the Delta strain, including the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
“All passenger flights from the UK will be prohibited from landing in Hong Kong,” a government statement said.
The UK would now be designated in the “extremely high-risk” category of countries, it added, the most severe rating the city has for pandemic travel.
The latest measures over the Delta variant, first found in India, will restrict passengers who have stayed in the UK for more than two hours from boarding passenger flights to the city.
The authorities said they upgraded the anti-pandemic measures in view of the “recent rebound” of the epidemic and the “widespread Delta variant virus strain” in Britain.
The Hong Kong government added that the city also recorded a number of cases of the L452R virus strain, a mutation linked to Delta, from people arriving from the UK.
The city confirmed its first local Covid case involving the Delta variant last week, ending a 16-day streak of zero local cases.
British authorities have said the Delta variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain on their territory.
Britain was due to fully ease restrictions on June 21, but the emergence of the variant has led to an extension of social distancing rules. With AFP
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