Health Department to assess coronavirus risks as PH considers lifting HK, Macau travel ban

A city view of Hong Kong <i>Photo: Ruslan Bardash / Unsplash </i>
A city view of Hong Kong Photo: Ruslan Bardash / Unsplash

The Department of Health (DOH) today announced that it is considering the possibility of lifting the travel ban on the Chinese special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong after scrapping a similar ban relating to Taiwan over the weekend.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in an interview with radio station DZMM that the department will study the two regions’ “containment protocols, readiness, and preventive measures,” which will be the basis for deciding whether the travel bans should be lifted.

The ban on travel to and from China and its special administrative regions was imposed on Feb. 2, after the Philippines recorded the death of its first COVID-19 patient, who was also the first fatality outside of China. The ban was also extended to Taiwan, but was lifted over the weekend after the self-governed island fiercely maintained that it is not part of China.

On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. tweeted that Hong Kong has “better facilities” to contain the coronavirus, and promised to consider lifting the ban, saying it is now “time to allow our domestic workers to return to their employers in Hong Kong.”

The travel ban prohibits all Filipinos from traveling to and from not only mainland China — where thousands have fallen ill to the new virus — but also to and from Macau and Hong Kong, where infection rates remain much lower.

Over a week ago, the Philippines repatriated 30 workers from Hubei province, where the new coronavirus originated. At present, the DOH is also seeking a quarantine facility for the more than 500 Filipino workers stuck on the ill-fated cruise ship Diamond Princess, currently moored in Japan, that has seen 27 people on board infected with the coronavirus.

The Health Department said that there’s a possibility that Filipinos from the cruise ship will be brought to New Clark City in Tarlac, where the overseas workers from China are currently quarantined.

Read: Coronavirus-infected Filipinos in Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess now at 27

While the number of confirmed cases in the Philippines has held steady at three, the Health Department is still monitoring 22 possible cases as of today.

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