Concerns grow as New Zealand, Taiwan record new COVID-19 cases from Philippine travelers

August 5, 2020 - 6:19 PM
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Passengers wearing protective masks stand at a distance from each other as they wait to enter the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, amid fears of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreading in Metro Manila, Philippines, March 18, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Filipinos aired their fears and concerns on the potential repercussions of reports that New Zealand has recorded two new cases of COVID-19 from the Philippines after more than three months since its last case was acquired locally.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday that a man in his 20s who arrived in the country from the Philippines via Hong Kong on July 23 had tested positive for COVID-19 after around 12 days in isolation.

The other patient is a woman in her 40s who arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines also via Hong Kong on August 1 and had tested positive for COVID-19 around three days in isolation.

Both patients are currently in managed isolation facilities, which has a total of 24 cases, including the travelers from the Philippines.

The Ministry of Health said that the additional cases bring the total count of New Zealand’s COVID-19 cases to 1,219.

“It has been 96 days since the last case of COVID-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source,” it noted in its report.

On June 1, New Zealand lifted its coronavirus containment measures after having zero active cases but it retained its border controls wherein everyone entering the country needed to undergo testing.

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration on July 24 reimplemented its ban on non-essential travel, except those who are overseas Filipino workers, holders of student visas and permanent residents of their destination country.

On August 1, it said that it would only allow foreign nationals, OFWs, permanent visa holders, students enrolled abroad and participants accepted in exchange visitor programs to exit the country.

Discrimination? 

The report on New Zealand’s new COVID-19 cases involving the Philippines did not sit well with Filipinos who aired their concerns about the news and its potential implication.

A Twitter user said that if the Philippine government did not “step up their game,” it could lead to countries imposing a “ban” on flights from the Philippines.

“And now expect discrimination against the Filipinos all because of our incompetent government,” wrote another online user.

“When the rest of the world starts to recover, the Philippines will be ostracized and pushed to the sidelines of migration (or maybe even financial relief?) because we are a hotbed of COVID-19 infections and infesting government,” a Filipino likewise commented.

Another Twitter user feared that such reports may mean that a huge percent of the Philippines’ population “is already infected with COVID-19” but are not detected “due to limited and exclusive testing.”

The report also reminded another Filipino of a previous report concerning Philippine travelers to Taiwan, another country with  low coronavirus infection.

Just like what happened to Taiwan 1-2 weeks ago,” the online user commented. 

Taiwan on Tuesday recorded a new COVID-19 case that involved “a Taiwanese woman in her 50s who lives in the Philippines” who arrived in the country on Sunday.

Rappler also reported that at least 10 COVID-19 cases of Taiwan in July were linked to the Philippines which consisted of “half of the 20 imported cases seen in the territory in July.”

New Zealand vs. Philippines

Last month, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was criticized by Filipino social media users after he compared the coronavirus situation of New Zealand and the Philippines in terms of population instead of government response.

That time, the Oceania country announced its lifting of containment measures after having zero active cases.

Roque said that the Philippines cannot replicate the same achievement since he claimed that New Zealand’s land area was only as big as Luzon with “five million population.”

“Eh tayo sa Metro Manila lang, 14 million na tayo so talagang dikit-dikit na tayo, dahilan kung bakit mabilis kumalat ang sakit,” he said before. 

An online user attempted to fact check the Palace official and shared the results on social media.

New Zealand had imposed strict lockdown measures in March despite having few COVID-19 cases.

Described as the “strictest” or “harshest” in the world, the lockdown only allowed grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and petrol stations to operate. 

Massive testing was also implemented while the locals were in quarantine.

The Philippines, meanwhile, only implemented an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Luzon during the third week of March, days after a local transmission was confirmed.

It was also initially reluctant to impose a travel ban against flights from China in fear of supposedly straining diplomatic ties.

The national government was likewise accused of failing to conduct mass testing initiatives during ECQ, the strictest phase of the lockdown when majority of the public were at home.