The public and some senators over the weekend questioned Health Secretary Francisco Duque III‘s move to not impose a travel ban on countries with the cases of the new variant of the novel coronavirus despite it being more contagious than the first.
In an emergency Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting last Saturday, Duque told President Rodrigo Duterte that the task force is not yet recommending a travel ban.
“Ikonsidera lamang ang travel ban, Mr. President, kung nasa lebel na ng community transmission ang new variant sa naturang bansa,” the health secretary said.
Dr. Socorro Escalante, representative of the World Health Organization in the Philippines, likewise echoed this view.
“The WHO recommendation for now is not to restrict travel but to ensure that our public health interventions are in place and that the country is ready to mitigate any — any event that the — that the transmissibility or this new strain will come into the country,” Escalante said.
Duterte initially approved IATF Resolution 90 last December 23 temporarily banning all travelers from the United Kingdom from December 24 to 31 only.
Those who have arrived in the country from the UK before 12 midnight of December 24, meanwhile, were immediately brought to New Clark City in Tarlac to undergo the mandated 14-day quarantine period while waiting for the results of their RT-PCR tests.
“Nakapagkasunduan din ang IATF na balikan at araling muli ang naturang travel restrictions bago mag-lapse ang effectivity period kaugnay na rin ang bagong risk classification na pag-uusapan po at irerekomendang muli sa inyo pong tanggapan, mahal na Pangulo,” Duque said in the meeting.
However, Duterte later extended the travel ban to two more weeks until January 14.
International health authorities stated that the new strain could be 70% more contagious than the earlier SARS-COV-2 which causes COVID-19.
The first case was reported at the United Kingdom on December 14 and then later, these countries also reported their cases of the mutated virus:
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
- The Netherlands
This development eventually renewed the re-imposition of travel restrictions among some governments in the world.
Calls for an immediate travel ban
After the IATF meeting, Rep. Loren Legarda (Antique) once again raised Duque’s hesitation to impose a travel ban against travelers from China last January, which later resulted in the surge of infections in the country.
“Last January, I recommended a temporary ban on travel from China, when COVID-19 was just starting. Sec. Duque said in House of Representatives question hour that it’s not needed, and we can handle it. And now, we must wait for community transmission? We can ill afford that!” Legarda said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also cited the health chief’s other failures in handling the health crisis.
“Lagi na lang late si Sec. Duque. Late sa contact tracing procedures, late sa PPE procurement, late sa pagpa-flatten ng curve, late sa pagbibigay ng benepisyo ng health workers, late sa pagkuha ng bakunang magsasalba sa mga Pilipino at late din sa travel ban,” she said.
Sen. Kiko Pangilinan denounced this as plain “incompetence” in terms of leading the country’s response to the global health crisis.
“This is incompetence, plain and simple. This best explains why ours is the worst performing gov’t Covid response in the Asean and the rest of the Western Pacific region,” he said.
Some Filipinos have also aired their frustrations against Duque in the form of memes, comic strips and comments online.
COVID-19 travel ban
Last January, when there are no known infections in the Philippines yet, Duque was hesitant with the idea of imposing a travel ban on Chinese nationals. He then raised that China might question why the Philippines is not imposing the same restriction on other countries.
Duterte was also not keen on imposing travel ban on travelers from China then, citing “it will not be easy.”
The next month, the country reported its first death related to COVID-19.
The DOH secretary was also questioned that time for not properly conducting contact tracing procedures on the first two cases from Wuhan, China detected in the Philippines.
It was only that month when the national government decided to impose a travel ban to mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.