Phl eyes to include U.S. in travel ban

The Philippines is eyeing to include in its travel ban foreign travelers from the United States after it had reported at least one case of a new coronavirus variant, the Department of Health (DOH) said Wednesday.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, during a press briefing, noted that it is the policy of the government to temporarily ban the entry of travelers from countries which detected the new variant, which is said to be more transmissible than others.

The variant, dubbed as B117, was first discovered in the United Kingdom (UK) last September. Medical experts say it does not cause more severe cases of COVID-19.

“Yes, we will include them temporarily. Remember that this is not a permanent ban. But that’s the policy. Any country that has reported the UK variant will be subjected to a temporary ban,” Duque said.

The country will wait for the U.S. to officially notify the World Health Organization that it had detected the new strain “before we include it in our official list,” said DOH undersecretary and spokesperson Rosette Vergeire.

Malacañang, meanwhile, assured the public that it is “closely monitoring” the developments on the new COVID-19 variant reported in Colorado.

President Rodrigo Duterte will expand the travel ban upon the recommendation of the DOH and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said his spokesperson Harry Roque.

The country has previously banned all foreign travelers from 20 states and territories starting December 30 (12:01 a.m.) until January 15 from entering the country.

These countries were the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, and Spain.

Exempted from the ban were Filipino citizens, but they shall be required to undergo a facility-based 14-day quarantine period regardless of their coronavirus swab test results.

Malacañang also directed laboratories at points of entry to submit the travelers’ specimens from countries with reported cases of the new COVID-19 variant to the Philippine Genome Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health.

In addition, the RITM is directed to develop a standard operating procedure for reports of new variants and strains of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, the Philippines recorded 472,000 cases of COVID-19, of which 23,793 are active. Some 9,230 individuals have succumbed to the illness.

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