There is a growing fear that the travel ban that prevents thousands of Filipinos from returning to China, Hong Kong, and Macau to work, study and live with their families, to protect them from the coronavirus outbreak, will be extended for another month.
The response is the result of new advisories from major airlines that fly from Hong Kong to key cities that moved the resumption of their flights from Feb. 29 to Mar. 28.
PAL, Cathay, Cebu Pacific to Resume Flights to China, Hong Kong, and Macau on March 28
The Philippine Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Cebu Pacific all issued the uniform advisory on Feb 11 (Tuesday), as was added to the list of banned destinations for Filipinos departing from and other international airports.
Commenting on this, Consul General Raly Tejada, however, said there has been no official word from on when the temporary travel ban imposed on Feb. 2 might be lifted.
He also added that there has not been a reply to the Hong Kong government’s formal request for Filipinos to be allowed back in the city.
Tejada reiterated that the Consulate, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs, supports the call for the ban to be lifted, especially for Filipino migrant workers and residents in Hong Kong.
As per Philippine immigration officials, Taiwan should have been included in the original ban imposed on Feb 2 that prohibited Filipinos traveling to China, Hong Kong, and Macau, because the city-state is part of what the Philippines consider as “greater China”.
Although Taiwan had tried to protest the ban, after a day of conflicting statements from Philippine government officials, it was still kept in place.
To this day, only the Philippines has barred its own nationals from leaving the country for destinations apart from China, although several governments have raised travel alerts for countries heavily affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Commenting on this development, the United Filipinos (UNIFIL) in Hong Kong, which has been leading the campaign for the immediate lifting of the ban, calls the airlines’ announcements distressing and worrying.
UNIFIL chairperson Dolores Balladares said that if the travel ban is prolonged, there will be more OFWs, residents and their families, who will have their livelihood and employment at risk including those who have been working with their employers for a long time.
Balladares pointed out that it is highly likely that employers will not be able to wait for a long time for their much-needed helper to return, and will just opt to terminate their contract.
She also noted that in Taiwan alone, at least 200 OFWs were immediately affected by the last-minute ban.
The same is true with returning residents stranded in Hong Kong and the Philippines now, as their income could be cut at the very least if they’re unable to get back to work for a long time.
In line with this, UNIFIL-Migrante is now working closely with Migrante International in organizing a press conference scheduled on Feb 17, during which those stranded by the ban are encouraged to speak about how it has impacted their life and work.