MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will temporarily ban the entry of travelers, whether foreigners or Filipinos, from abroad — except returning overseas Filipino workers – starting March 20, the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 said on Tuesday night.
The temporary ban was based on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to a document posted on the Facebook page of the Department of Health (DOH).
In a memorandum circular, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, chairman of NTF, said the ban would start at 12:01 a.m. on March 20, a Saturday, and end on April 19. Also, the number of inbound passengers before the suspension takes effect will be limited to only 1,500 per day.
According to Lorenzana, only the following would be exempted from the travel suspension:
- holders of 9(e) visas
- those under medical repatriation and their escorts as endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs – Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA)
- distressed returning OFWs as endorsed by the DFA-OUMWA
- those coming with under emergency, humanitarian, and other analogous cases as approved by the NTF
On Monday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that this latest surge of COVID-19 cases would approach the peak levels recorded in August 2020.
Analytics group OCTA Research and other observers then warned that the current COVID-19 surge might have been caused by variants spreading undetected in the country.
As of this writing, DOH said that the Philippines had already registered at least one case each for the three variants of concern listed by global health authorities: the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom, the B.1.135 strain from South Africa, and the P.1 from Brazil.
On Sunday, OCTA Research member Professor Guido David said that, with a 1.9 reproduction rate, the country could see 8,000 new cases nationwide per day before April.
Just this Friday, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) said that it had detected a mutated B.1.1.28 coronavirus strain — the strain that was the parent of the P.1 variant — in a traveler coming from the Philippines.
The mutated B.1.1.28 carried the same mutations found in the P.1 variant, which led Japan’s NIID to assume that the variant might also be more infectious.