Palace studying extension of travel bans

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang will be reviewing the threat of the United Kingdom and South African variants of COVID-19 in the next few days to determine if the travel restrictions imposed on foreigners from 28 countries will be extended beyond Jan. 15.

In a memo last Jan. 8, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said all health protocols should be enforced, especially the ban on foreigners coming from those countries.

“This is without prejudice to the extension of the travel restrictions relevant to the United Kingdom and South African variants beyond such date, upon approval of the IATF,” he noted, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

He added that existing prohibitions and procedures on entry of arriving passengers should continue to be implemented.

Medialdea also directed yesterday concerned agencies and local government units to remain vigilant and to continue enforcing health protocols to contain the spread of the new COVID-19 variants in the country.

“The Task Group on Returning Overseas Filipinos of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 and all LGUs are directed to make necessary preparations for the implementation of strict quarantine and isolation in health facilities for those arriving, and for LGU-led monitoring for those quarantining at home, after 15 January 2021,” the memo read in part.

The Office of the President ordered last Friday the inclusion of Austria in the Philippines’ list of restricted countries. Also in the list are Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan and Brazil.

Both the South African and UK ‘Kent’ variants appear to be more contagious, which many see as a problem because it needs tougher restrictions on society to control the spread, the BBC reported. There is currently no evidence to suggest that any of the mutated viruses cause more serious illness, but it is still important to observe hand washing, social distancing and wearing of face masks.

The Palace approved the IATF’s recommendation for the enforcement of measures related to the new COVID-19 variant, South African variant (501.V2), which has been detected in South Africa, Japan, Finland, Norway, UK and Austria.

Filipino citizens coming from or who have been to Austria within 14 days immediately preceding arrival in the Philippines, including those arriving after Jan. 10, are allowed to enter the Philippines.

However, they shall be required to undergo an absolute facility-based 14-day quarantine period, even if they obtain a negative RT-PCR test result.

Filipino and foreign passengers merely transiting through Austria are covered by the rules as provided in a Dec. 31 memorandum issued by Medialdea.

Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said Filipinos coming from the listed countries will be allowed entry, but will be referred to the airport’s one-stop-shop to strictly undergo the “facility-based 14-day quarantine period, notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR result.”

The BI said those who will be transiting or those who have merely stayed in the airport in the 28 countries will not be required to undergo the 14-day quarantine period, but will strictly adhere to the regular protocols for arriving passengers. –  Robertzon Ramirez, Rudy Santos

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