The Philippines would not jump the gun and restrict the travel of Chinese nationals into the country this early to help contain the spread of a new strain of the deadly coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they would still wait for official word from the World Health Organization (WHO) if there is a need to impose travel restrictions, especially with the coming Chinese New Year when more tourists from China are expected.
Interviewed over radio station DZBB on Wednesday (January 22), Duque said: “‘Yung usapin po na travel restriction ay pinag-iisipan na po ‘yan, pinag-uusapan nang malaliman ng WHO kasi kinakailangan kung magkakaroon ng travel restriction, ang mangunguna na dapat magsagawa nito ay ang China mismo… Sila mismo ang pipigil sa kanilang mga mamamayan sa pagbiyahe palabas ng China.”
The Philippines has placed under observation a five-year-old Chinese who arrived sick in Cebu from Wuhan recently. Health officials are determining if it was another case of the new coronavirus strain.
Duque said the situation is “very fluid” at this time. “Maghihintay tayo ng malinaw na gabay o guidelines mula sa World Health Organization na sila naman ang oras-oras na nakikipag-ugnayan sa Chinese Center for Disease Control at saka sa Chinese Ministry of Health.”
The Philippines is receiving plenty of Chinese visitors, not just for tourism and leisure, but also work-related, as Chinese nationals man numerous offshore gaming hubs in the country.
The Department of Tourism reported that in the first 10 months of 2019, a total of 1,499,524 Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, 41.13 higher compared to the same period in 2018.
Chinese nationals are expected to travel to different locations for the Chinese New Year (January 25) holidays.
In the meantime, Duque advised Filipinos to avoid crowded places, wash their hands regularly, cover their mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing, and to strengthen their immune system.
The DOH is also prepared for the possible widespread use of N95 masks once the situation requires it.
“Of course, makakatulong ‘yan (N95 masks) pero sa ngayon, hindi pa naman natin kinakailangan pa dahil wala pa namang abiso ang World Health Organization… Pero handa naman tayo na dapat maging available ang N95 masks para mapigilan ang paglanghap nag contaminated na hangin,” he said.