Philippines tightens border controls to keep out Omicron variant

November 29, 2021 - 9:44 AM
A passenger wearing a face mask and face shield for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walks towards a counter in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines, January 14, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo)

MANILA — The Philippines on Sunday further tightened border controls to keep out the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, adding seven European countries to a travel ban that initially covered seven African nations.

The Omicron variant kept spreading around the world on Sunday, with 13 cases found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia.

The Philippines coronavirus task force placed Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy under its so-called “red list” until Dec. 15, banning the entry of travelers from these countries.

The ban initially covered South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

The government also backpedaled on a plan to allow the entry of some vaccinated foreign tourists starting Dec. 1.

READ: Philippines to reopen to some foreign tourists starting December 1

“Inbound international travel of all persons, regardless of vaccination status, coming from or who have been to red list countries/jurisdictions/territories within the last 14 days prior to arrival to any port of the Philippines, shall not be allowed,” acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a statement.

The Philippines, which is one of the region’s worst-hit countries in terms of infections, deaths and economic losses, has gradually reopened its borders and economy.

Its new daily case count dropped to 838 on Sunday, the lowest since December 2020 – compared with a record peak of more than 26,000 in September – after having fully inoculated more than 35 million Filipinos, or 46% of the targeted population.

The goal is to increase the number of vaccinated individuals to 54 million by year-end, or 70% of the targeted population, 77 million by the end of March 2022, and 90 million by end-June, according to Carlito Galvez Jr, who leads the government’s vaccination strategy.

Galvez on Sunday disclosed a deal to buy an additional 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, intended for booster shots and pediatric vaccinations next year.

—Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue, Raissa Kasolowsky and Mark Heinrich