DOH mulls recommending expanded travel ban from China as novel coronavirus threat persists

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 1) – The Department of Health (DOH) said it will recommend a wider travel ban to include other provinces in China when the situation requires it.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said Friday that the task force created to fight the novel coronavirus in the Philippines is thinking of including Chinese provinces with 100 confirmed cases of the new virus which originated in Wuhan City in December last year.

But he added that the actual criteria will be coming from the World Health Organization.

Upon the recommendation of the Health department, President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday issued an order to temporarily stop the entry of all tourists from Hubei province — where Wuhan is located.

Filipinos who are from Wuhan could go home but they will be subjected to a mandatory quarantine for 14 days, which is believed to be the incubation period of the 2019-nCoV.

The first batch of Filipinos will be evacuated next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously said the travel cost will be shouldered by the government.

Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana earlier said about 30 to 50 Filipinos from Hubei have indicated they want to leave the province. Sta. Romana added there are 300 Filipinos in Hubei, half of them in Wuhan.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters the DOH is eyeing two possible quarantine areas for overseas Filipino workers from Wuhan: Caballo Island, a naval station at the entrance of Manila Bay, and the drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation center in Fort Magsaysay, province of Nueva Ecija.

In 2014, the government used Caballo Island to quarantine Filipino peacekeepers from Liberia amid the outbreak of Ebola, a virus with high fatality rate.

The number of 2019-nCoV cases is nearing 12,000 worldwide, with 149 confirmed cases outside of China. Spain is the latest country to report its first case of the new coronavirus.

On Friday, Singapore and the United States announced that visitors who have traveled to China within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter their countries, CNN reported.

In a study released Friday, Hong Kong researchers said that the number of actual 2019-nCoV cases in China could be far higher than what was being reported. An estimated 75,815 people could be infected with the new coronavirus in Wuhan, China, CNN cited the researchers as saying. The number includes the infected people who do not need or seek medical attention.