THE Bureau of Immigration has stopped issuing Philippine visas on demand to Chinese tourists at the Manila airport amid an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus that has killed dozens in China.
“The Civil Aeronautics Board has already suspended direct flights from Wuhan province,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are now temporarily suspending the issuance of visas upon arrival for Chinese nationals to slow down the influx of group tours.”
More than 4,000 people, mostly Chinese, have been infected with the new virus, while more than a hundred people have died, World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative for the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said at a briefing.
Chinese nationals have not necessarily been banned from coming to the Philippines, Mr. Morente said.
“We have not received any directives imposing policy changes on Chinese nationals,” he said. “But we are taking this proactive measure to slow down travel, and possibly help prevent the entry of the 2019-nCov,” he added, referring to the new coronavirus strain.
The Department of Health said there were 24 Chinese nationals from Wuhan, China under investigation in the country, but there are no confirmed cases yet of the new strain in the country.
Confirmed cases were recorded in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, United States, France, Taiwan and Vietnam, among others countries.
The bureau started the visa facility in August 2017 to attract more Chinese tourists and businessmen.
Under the policy, Chinese nationals may be granted a 30-day visa at the airport that can be extended to six months.
The Immigration bureau earlier tightened the issuance of visas to Chinese tourists by prohibiting extensions.
The bureau noted that Taiwan had canceled the permits of 429 people in 24 tour groups from Wuhan, China, citing a report by Taipei Times.
Mr. Morente said the bureau would like to help the Bureau of Quarantine and Health department in preventing the entry of the virus.
Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said the government should “preemptively ban” visitors from Wuhan, China.
“While Philippine health authorities have not confirmed a case of the rapidly mutating deadly disease, it is best for them to be more proactive especially since the country may not be able to contain a full-blown epidemic,” he said in a statement, noting that authorities have been busy helping victims of Taal Volcano’s eruption.
He also said 1.63 million tourists from mainland China visited the country from January to November.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard said two ships from China had docked at the South Harbor port in Manila.
A vessel from Lianyungang, Jiangsu, China with 20 crew members arrived on Jan. 27, while a cruise ship from Hong Kong with 778 passengers arrived on Jan. 28, it said in a statement. The cruise ship was scheduled to leave for Subic later in the evening.
Both ships “were cleared and declared safe by the Bureau of Quarantine during mandatory inspections, the Coast Guard said.
Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda said he would file a bill that seeks to create a Center for Disease Control under the Health department that will focus on emerging diseases.
The House of Representatives summoned health authorities to a “question hour” about the virus.
Also yesterday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido J. Dulay said the government would help Filipinos in China who wish to come home.
The government could repatriate Filipinos in Hubei province and Wuhan City, where the new coronavirus strain originated, he said at a separate briefing. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Gilian M. Cortez