THE PHILIPPINES has banned foreign travelers and returning Filipinos who are not migrant workers, as it faces a fresh spike in coronavirus infections, according to the Presidential Palace.

The National Task Force Against COVID-19 issued a memo on Tuesday ordering agencies to enforce the travel restrictions from Mar. 20 to Apr. 19, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This is in view of the rising COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases and the entry of the coronavirus variants in the country,” he said.

Holders of certain visas, passengers on medical repatriation, distressed migrant workers and those traveling on emergency and humanitarian grounds would be exempted, Mr. Roque said.

Government agencies must limit inbound international passengers to 1,500 a day, he added.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and budget carrier Cebu Pacific expect a surge in refund requests because of the travel ban.

Both airlines advised affected passengers to rebook their flights, request refunds or store the amount of their tickets in a travel fund.

In an advisory issued on Tuesday, the Civil Aeronautics Board said airlines that exceed the capacity would be penalized.

In a separate statement, Cebu Pacific said it was canceling flights between Manila and Narita and between Manila and Nagoya during the ban.

Philippines AirAsia said it had no international flights but has partnered with the government in bringing home Filipinos stranded overseas.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 4,387 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 635,698. The death toll rose by 18 to 12,866, while recoveries increased by 374 to 561,099, it said in a bulletin.

There were 61,733 active cases, 93% of which were mild, 3.8% did not show symptoms, 1.2% were critical, 1.3% were severe and 0.68% were moderate.

DoH said nine duplicates had been removed from the tally, while five recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Six laboratories failed to submit data on Mar. 16.

About 8.8 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Mar. 15, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 121.3 million and killed 2.7 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 97.8 million people have recovered, it said.

In a separate statement, DoH and the Food and Drug Administration said the reported death of a person who got vaccinated early this month had not been caused by the vaccine.

The person received a shot, subsequently tested positive for the virus and died, they said

“Vaccines are only one part of the solution in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end,” they said, adding that people should still follow health protocols.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the government might have to tighten the lockdown if cases continue to surge.

“The localized lockdowns are starting to yield some positive outcome,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel, adding that he wouldn’t recommend a stricter nationwide quarantine now.

Mr. Duque said the cities of Navotas, Malabon, and Pasay were aggressively implementing localized lockdowns, but noted that it takes about two weeks before infections could be slowed.

“If nothing changes and cases continue to rise, then the possibility of a more widespread lockdown is certainly strong,” he said.

Coronavirus infections may hit a daily record of 11,000 by end-March, the OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines said on Tuesday.

OCTA research fellow Fredegusto Guido P. David cited a spike in cases, with a virus reproduction rate of 2.03. This means a sick person may infect two more people.

The spike could be traced to increased mobility, failure to comply with minimum health standards and the detection of more contagious coronavirus variants in the country, he said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas