Travelers wearing facemasks collect their luggage on a plane after arriving at Tianhe airport in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on January 23, 2020. China banned trains and planes from leaving a major city at the centre of a virus outbreak on January 23, seeking to seal off its 11 million people to contain the contagious disease. AFP/Leo Ramirez

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:46 p.m.) — Malacañang announced Tuesday that the Philippine government is expanding its travel ban over the new coronavirus variant to five more countries, including mainland China.

Aside from travelers from China, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that travelers from Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg and Oman would no longer be allowed to enter the country starting noon of Wednesday, January 13 until Friday, January 15.

Filipinos returning to Manila from the said countries would still be allowed entry but would have to undergo the prescribed 14-day quarantine period despite testing negative for COVID-19.

The travel ban would be subject to the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Prior to this, the Philippine government had already imposed entry restrictions on travelers coming from 28 countries where new variants of the coronavirus, feared to be more infectious than the original variant, have been reported.

This brings the number of countries which the Philippines has ordered travel restrictions to at 33: 

  • Australia 
  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong SAR
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Luxembourg
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • People’s Republic of China
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • The Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Malacañang is still mulling over whether it will extend or lift the travel bans which would only be in effect until Friday. But the administration had faced questions as to why it did not include Beijing earlier in the said restrictions, trigerring flashbacks of its move in 2020 to reject banning tourists from China, where the COVID-19 had originated. 

“Let’s stop with the anomalies. Why is China exempted? Are we again scared of hurting its feelings? Let’s put the Philippines first,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said on January 5, as concerns mount that the new coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK, would eventually reach the country’s shores.

Health officials Tuesday earlier said it has not been detected so far in the Philippines, and urged the public to refrain from sharing unverified information on social media.

The coronavirus task force has also formed a technical working group to monitor and identify new variants of the COVID-19 along with providing policy proposals. It came after authorities in Hong Kong reported that a returning resident from Manila had tested positive after arriving in the Chinese special administrative region.

Still, experts have stressed that the public should not let their guard down, as the more infectious variant could lead to another spike in cases and raise anew the possibility of a return to hard lockdowns that have hurt the economy badly. — Xave Gregorio and Christian Deiparine