The Philippines imposed a travel ban on travelers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to avert the entry of the COVID-19 variant that was first reported in India or also known as the B1617 variant.
Earlier, the country has banned passengers from India starting April 29 until May 14 as a precautionary measure against the B1617 variant from entering the Philippines.
The travel ban on India develops as the Department of Health (DoH) said before the government imposed a travel ban, five passengers who arrived from India tested positive for Covid-19.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea signed a memorandum to expand the travel ban imposed on travelers from India; now, it includes four more countries.
Starting May 7 to 14, all passengers coming from or who have been to the four countries within 14 days immediately preceding arrival in the Philippines shall be prohibited by the government from entering Manila.
However, passengers arriving before May 7 will not be barred from entering the country but are required to undergo quarantine in a designated facility for 14 days, despite if the passenger's COVID-19 RT-PCR test result is negative.
Medialdea said, Filipinos and foreign passengers merely transiting through India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Landa, and Bangladesh.
"Shall not be deemed as having come from or having been to such country, provided that they stayed in the airport the whole time and were not cleared for entry into these countries by their immigration authorities."
The memorandum also states that upon arrival in the Philippines, passengers who just transited through the four countries do not need to complete a two-week facility-based quarantine. Still, they must comply with the existing testing and quarantine protocols of the government.
It added that all specimens of travelers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh that tested positive for COVID-19 in the Philippines should undergo whole-genome sequencing.
For 14 days, all of their close contacts must undergo facility-based quarantine, and contact tracing shall expand up to the third generation contacts, it stated.
Furthermore, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque had previously said the government was studying the World Health Organization's recommendation to impose restrictions on travelers from countries with high passenger traffic from India.
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Philippine Genome Center is sequencing the samples of the five travelers from India to ascertain if they had the B1617 strain, which is considered a "double-mutant," that experts say is the culprit behind the sudden surge of infections in India.
The Department said the Bureau of Quarantine recorded 149 passengers with a history of travel to India from April 1 to 30, 129 of whom are returning overseas Filipinos, and 20 are foreigners.
“Among these cases, five tested positive for COVID-19 through RT-PCR, while 137 of them tested negative… The test results of the seven remaining travelers are currently being verified,” the DOH said in a statement.
Likewise, it disclosed that four of the five positive cases are Filipinos and one is a foreigner.
Vergeire also noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) still cannot classify if the number of variant cases in the country constitutes community transmission.
She pointed out that regions with most cases of both the UK and South African variants are the National Capital Region and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon).
On Wednesday, the country posted 5,685 new cases of Covid-19 for a total of 1.073 million infections.
Sources: GMA News, ManilaTimes, PhilStar