Palace: Time to consider halting travel from UK amid new COVID-19 strain

Palace: Time to consider halting travel from UK amid new COVID-19 strain
Travelers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport are seen wearing face masks in this January 2020 photo

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines may soon halt the entry of travelers from the United Kingdom to the country amid a new strain of the coronavirus reported by British authorities that is causing more infections in their country.

Several countries have already imposed a travel ban from the UK as officials there say the new strain is "out of control."

Despite this, the World Health Organization has said that it is normal for viruses to mutate, but its transmission should be suppressed as soon as possible.

"The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO.

The COVID-19 has infected 77.4 million individuals as of December 22 with over 1.7 million dead, per figures by the John Hopkins University and Medicine.

At home, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday said that the coronavirus task force would study the possibility of a temporary travel ban from the UK.

In another briefing on Tuesday, he said it may now be time to alert the transportation department for the said move.

"Pero tama po kayo, panahon na para ikonsidera 'yang temporary travel ban sa UK bagamat pakinggan din ang sinabi ng WHO na hindi naman dapat ikabahala 'yan dahil ganyan talaga 'yung progression ng viruses," Roque said.

(Perhaps you are right, we should now consider the temporary travel ban from UK, although from what we heard from the WHO there is not much to worry as such is a normal progression of viruses.)

The UK government has ordered a new lockdown across its country due to the said strain amid the holiday season.

Philippine health officials have also said that they are monitoring if it has reached the country, but added that restricting travel "would not be required at this point."

The Duterte administration early this 2020 thumbed down calls to ban entry of tourists from China, where the novel coronavirus had originated in its city of Wuhan late last year.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had told lawmakers that the country should be "careful of possible repercussions" of seemingly singling out China, a nation which the president has pivoted the Philippines to.

A travel ban was eventually ordered by January 31, only a day after authorities had already confirmed its first case of a Chinese tourist who flew to several destinations in the country.

Infections have grown significantly since then, with cases now at 462,815 by December 22, and the death toll surpassing the 9,000th mark.

To date, the Philippines' count of COVID-19 patients is the second highest in Southeast Asia, next only to Indonesia's over 671,000. — with a report from Xave Gregorio

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: December 21, 2020 – 7:57pm

Find the latest travel and tourism news from around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. Main image by AFP/Romeo Gacad

December 21, 2020 – 7:57pm

Switzerland on Monday imposes an entry ban on arrivals from Britain and South Africa and orders retroactive quarantine for all arrivals from those countries since December 14.

"This is intended in particular to stop travel from these countries for tourism purposes," the government says in a statement, following the identification of a "new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus" in those countries. — AFP

December 21, 2020 – 3:57pm

Hong Kong on Monday said it would ban all flights from Britain following the discovery of a new and highly infectious strain of the coronavirus there.

"From midnight there will be no more passenger flights arriving in Hong Kong from the United Kingdom," health secretary Sophia Chan told reporters. — AFP

December 21, 2020 – 2:24pm

In Finland's snowy far north, international visitors normally flood the Santa Claus Village amusement park, in search of reindeer rides, snow castles and a meeting with the jolly man himself.

Under the pandemic travel restrictions, however, crowds in the Lapland town of Rovaniemi have dwindled to just a trickle and the joyful winter wonderland feels ghostly and abandoned.

"It's been an exceptional and difficult year," Santa tells AFP from behind a plexiglass screen installed in his grotto, adding that his visitors have appreciated being able to forget a tough year and enjoy the Christmas cheer. — AFP

December 21, 2020 – 10:28am

Canada will halt the entry of passenger flights from Britain for 72 hours from midnight Sunday, authorities announced, the latest nation to take action over a new fast-spreading strain of coronavirus in the UK.

"Given the high number of cases of a variant COVID-19 virus observed in some areas in the United Kingdom, the decision has been made to suspend entry into Canada of all commercial and private passenger flights from the United Kingdom for 72 hours," said a statement from Canadian health authorities. — AFP

December 16, 2020 – 9:40am

Rio de Janeiro's annual New Year's Eve beach bash, already reduced in scope and format, has been canceled due to the raging coronavirus pandemic, the mayor's office said Tuesday.

What is normally a mega-party with live music, a dazzling display of fireworks and hundreds of thousands of people dancing to live music had already been drastically downsized, with the fireworks canceled and several events moved online.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella's office said in a statement that it had "opted to cancel the event out of respect for all of the victims, and to prioritize security for all."

Some 180,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, population 212 million. It is the world's second highest death toll after the United States, and virus cases are on the rise.

Rio de Janeiro has the highest ratio of COVID-19 victims of any Brazilian state. — AFP

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