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Manila widens travel ban amid new coronavirus strain

By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday broadened a travel ban to 20 countries, where a more infectious coronavirus strain first reported in the United Kingdom is causing havoc.

The ban that initially covered Britain was applied to Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Israel, Lebanon, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Australia, France and Iceland, according to the presidential palace.

The ban that only covers foreigners takes effect on Dec. 30 and will run until Jan. 15, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said in an e-mailed statement.

The Manila International Airport Authority first announced the wider ban in a Facebook post, but deleted it hours later after the palace said there was no such ban.

The travel ban was only “highly recommended” by an inter-agency task force (IATF) made up of Cabinet officials and the Department of Health (DoH), presidential Mr. Roque told an online news briefing earlier on Tuesday.

“The President will issue a decision in writing,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

Mr. Duterte was concerned about returning migrant Filipino workers, who should be allowed to come home, Mr. Roque said.

Under the latest presidential order, passengers in transit or coming from any of these countries in the past two weeks and who arrive before Dec. 30 would be allowed to enter the Philippines, subject to quarantine and testing.

Filipino citizens coming from these countries will be allowed entry, also subject to quarantine and testing, the palace said.

“Outbound travel to countries with reported new variants shall be subject to the existing protocols of the Philippines and the entry protocols of the respective countries,” it said.

DoH reported 886 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 471,526.

The death toll rose by 38 to 9,162, while recoveries increased by 253 to 439,016, it said in a bulletin.

There were 23,348 active cases, 80% of which were mild, 10.6% did not show symptoms, 3.1% were severe and 5.9% were critical.

Davao City reported the highest number of new cases at 61, followed by Pampanga at 58, Bulacan at 45, Quezon City at 45 and Cavite at 37.

Ten duplicates had been removed from the tally, while eight cases tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths, it said. Nine laboratories failed to submit data on Dec. 28.

Meanwhile, one of 85 passengers who recently arrived from the UK had tested positive for the coronavirus, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a separate news briefing.

She said 81 were negative and the results for the remaining three passengers were pending.

The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) had started receiving samples from positive travelers from the UK and other affected countries to test for the new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) strain, Ms. Vergeire said.

The center would look at more than 700 specimens from laboratories and other hospitals going as far back as November, she added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier said the new virus strain had led to spiraling infection numbers.

Europe has closed its doors to British travelers after the UK tightened its COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, and reversed plans to relax restrictions during the Christmas holiday.

France said it would bar all people coming from the UK for 48 hours, including freight carriers, whether by road, air, sea or rail, according to a Reuters report.

Germany, Italy and the Netherlands suspended flights from Britain, while Ireland said it would restrict  flights and ferries from its neighbor.

Belgium said it would close its borders to flights and trains  — including the popular Eurostar service — coming from the UK. — with Norman P. Aquino and Gillian M. Cortez

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