DOH mulls wider travel ban as persons under watch increase

ON THE heels of the first 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) case being recorded in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) on Friday, January 31, bared that it is now looking to recommend a wider travel restriction for those coming from China.

As of Friday, the number of persons under investigation (PUIs) for 2019-nCoV increased to 31, with two more foreigners added to the list. Of the 31, six have been discharged and cleared and one has died.

In a press conference, DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo admitted that they are now considering a wider coverage of a travel ban being imposed in a bid to minimize the threat of the 2019-nCoV.

"The Philippine government upon the recommendation of the Department of Health has issued a temporary travel ban covering all travelers from Hubei province of China," said Domingo.

"The DOH will also be recommending the expansion of the travel ban coverage to more Chinese provinces as new information on the increasing number of cases per region arises," he added.

The DOH issued the recommendation for a travel restriction on Thursday after it was able to confirm the Philippines' first case of 2019-nCoV.

Subsequently, Malacañang ordered the imposition of a temporary travel ban covering all tourists coming from Hubei in China.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed disapproval of the decision of the Philippines to impose a partial travel ban.

According to WHO Philippines representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, this is because of the potential social and economic impact that a travel ban may entail.

"Based on some facts that we already discussed, WHO does not favor at this point of time imposition of a travel ban. We are not recommending travel restriction," said Abeyasinghe.

Nevertheless, the WHO official said this does not mean that the Philippines must follow the former.

"Suffice to say that our recommendations are not binding on member-states... They are free to make whatever decisions," he said.

At most, Abeyasinghe said the Philippines is obligated to inform the WHO on what covers the travel restrictions and the justifications why such restrictions will be imposed.

Persons under investigation

While the travel restriction debate persists, the DOH reported that they have recorded a total of 31 PUIs for 2019-nCoV.

This after a Chinese and an American, who arrived in the country separately, were included in the list.

As for the positive 2019-nCoV case, DOH Epidemiology Bureau head Ferchito Avelino disclosed that she is currently isolated and is being treated at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

Her companion, according to Avelino, is also confined at the same hospital in a separate isolation room.

The health official also said that they have also started the contact tracing process for those that were closed contacts of the patient.

The list includes the co-passengers in the Cebu Pacific flight they took from Hong Kong to Cebu on January 21, Cebgo flight from Cebu to Dumaguete, and the Philippine Airlines flight from Dumaguete to Manila on January 25.

"Contact tracing is being conducted in coordination with the Bureau of Quarantine, Epidemiology Bureau, and other government agencies," said Avelino. (HDT/SunStar Philippines)