Airline, shipping firms urged to help impose PH ban on travelers from nCoV-hit Chinese areas

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has reiterated its appeal to airlines and shipping companies to help impose the country’s ban on travelers from China and its other regions that were hit by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente made the appeal after immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) blocked the entry of 36 foreign nationals who recently went to Macau, which is covered by the ban.

In a statement, the bureau said the foreigners, who flew via a Philippine Airlines flight from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, were barred entry at the NAIA Terminal 1 after immigration officers “discovered upon inspection that they were traveling as a group and that they have been to Macau last February 1.”

BI port operations division chief Grifton Medina said all 36 passengers were booked on the first available flight back to Phnom Penh.

The Philippine government on February 2 ordered the implementation of travel restrictions on passengers from China and its territories in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

The novel coronavirus – which originated from the Chinese City of Wuhan – has killed over 900 in mainland China as of February 10 with 40,171 confirmed infections.

A report from China’s National Health Commission showed that as of February 9, Hong Kong has 36 confirmed cases with one death, while Macau has 10 with one cured and discharged from hospital. Taiwan, on the other hand, reported 18 confirmed cases with one recovery.

Under the country’s travel ban, foreigners will not be allowed to enter the Philippines if they have traveled either to China, Macau and Hong Kong within the past 14 days.

Morente said all airlines and ships have been instructed not to board passengers covered by the ban.

He added that they are now mulling the possibility of imposing fines against airlines violating the policy.

As novel coronavirus infections continue to increase, the BI said both foreign and Filipino passengers from abroad will now be required to completely fill out and submit their arrival cards.

Morente said he instructed all immigration duty supervisors to strictly enforce the new policy so the bureau can assist health and police authorities in tracking down passengers who recently travelled to nCoV-hit areas in China.

Previously, only foreign passengers arriving at the airports are required to fill out said arrival cards while Filipinos are obliged to fill out embarkation cards when they leave the country.

The bureau also said its immigration regulation division is now strictly screening applications for extension of stay of foreign tourists to check if any of them have a travel history to China, Hongkong and Macau within 14 days from their arrival.

A visa extension applicant covered by the restriction shall be turned over to the BOQ for medical assessment, the BI said.

“We have developed a series of checking, double-checking, even triple checking to ensure that we assist our health authorities in monitoring the travelers. We do what we can to help prevent the spread of this virus,” Morente said.

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