Two planes ready to bring home Filipinos from Hubei — DFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) — The government has already prepared two charter planes to fly to Hubei province in China to bring Filipinos home amid the novel coronavirus outbreak in the East Asian country, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

"[Secretary for Foreign Affairs] @teddyboylocsin directed our consulate in Shanghai, China to immediately start processing Filipinos in Hubei Province who wish to be repatriated to PH," said DFA Undersecretary Bridigo Dulay on Twitter.

He added that "2 private charter airlines are on standby to fly to Hubei to bring our people home upon clearance by Chinese authorities."

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana said there are about 30 to 50 Filipinos from Hubei who raised that they wanted to evacuate the province. Sta. Romana said there are 300 Filipinos in Hubei, half of which are in Wuhan -- the city which sits at the center of the virus outbreak.

"This is before any decision was made today, about 30 to 50 indicated that they are willing to be evacuated...We have to ask them to consider everything and whether they are determined to be evacuated so we can make the final plans," Sta. Romana told CNN Philippines' Politics As Usual.

The ambassador said the repatriated Filipinos would have to agree, as part of the government's protocol, to be quarantined for two weeks to ensure that the virus would not spread in the Philippines. He added that the Filipinos there would also risk exposure to the virus during the actual repatriation, from leaving their homes to meeting the driver and interpreter who will bring them to their planes.

Dulay also assured that the quarantine plan is also ready for the repatriates.

This comes a few hours after Malacanang said it would do more harm than good to repatriate Filipinos in Wuhan.

"Kung 'yun ang rekomendasyon ng DOH (Department of Health), the President will consider it... Kung kukunin din natin (sila) at papapasukin dito, baka naman mag-spread dito sa atin. We have to be very cautious," Panelo said during a briefing in Malacañang.

[Translation: If the DOH recommends to repatriate Filipinos in Wuhan, the President will consider it... But if we get them and bring them home, the virus might spread here. We have to be very cautious.]

Panelo initially said the Palace will be waiting for the recommendation of the Department of Health before it pursues any plans to pluck these Filipinos out of Wuhan. However, he added that travel restrictions put in place by the Chinese government to contain the disease could also hamper recovery efforts.

Since last week, Wuhan and two other cities have been under lockdown as Chinese authorities race to contain a deadly virus that has reached parts Asia, Europe, and the United States.

"That can be threshed out in formal talks, but we must consider the health issue. Ano bang mas makakabuti [What's better for them]— stay there for a while until the crisis is over, or we'll get them and bring them here and open the possibility of spreading it here," the official added.

Panelo said the decision of the Bureau of Immigration to suspend the issuance of visa upon arrival for Chinese tourists would do. He added that President Rodrigo Duterte has not made it permanent yet. Flights from Wuhan have also been restricted.

There are no confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the Philippines. China tallied 106 deaths from the virus as of Tuesday afternoon, with 4,515 cases confirmed in the mainland, CNN reported.

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CNN Philippines' Melissa Luz Lopez and Janine Peralta contributed to this report