Stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and residents in Hong Kong and Macau may now travel back to their countries as the government task force on COVID-19 has agreed to exempt them from the travel ban today (February 18).
Back on February 2, the Philippine government enforced a travel ban on China, as well as on Hong Kong and Macau, which are both special administrative regions of China. The travel ban was imposed by the task force as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus, an infectious pathogen that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
OFWs, Residents May Now Travel Back to Hong Kong, Macau
In a tweet shared by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Undersecretary Brigido Dulay on Tuesday (February 17), shared that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease lifted the travel ban for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) returning to work in the two Chinese regions.
Today, DFA Sec Locsin’s advocacy has come true. OFWs returning for work in Hongkong and Macau have been exempted from the outbound travel ban by the IATF-EID, subject to certain procedural formalities. Woohoo!! @teddyboylocsin
— Dodo Dulay (@dododulay) February 18, 2020
The partial lifting of the ban was first announced through a tweet by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., and was then confirmed by Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.
According to the latter, there will be no restrictions on residents and their family members, but overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will have to sign a declaration that they understand the risks they face in going to Hong Kong.
However, it appears that the travel ban remains enforced on tourists.
The decision to lift the travel ban was made during a meeting of the government Inter-agency Task Force that was mandated to review the ban two weeks after the Cabinet held its first meeting on the issue on Feb. 4.
Panelo shared the official announcement after a telephone conversation with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
In an interview, Panelo said: “Secretary of Health Duque confirmed that the inter-agency task for emerging infectious disease has decided to lift the travel ban of overseas workers going to Macau and Hong Kong. And according to him, those OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) going back would have to make a written declaration that they know the risk of going back to their places of work.”
He pointed out: “Those coming back from Macau and Hong Kong, the families of Filipinos who are there, can come back, and those having permanent resident [visa] holders, as well as the diplomatic corps and families.”
Commenting on this development, Consul General Raly Tejada welcomed the news, and said that it was “indeed a reason to celebrate.”
He also noted: “Adversity brought out the best in the community. Nakita natin ang pagkakaisa ng (We saw the unity of the) Filipino community.”
Tejada explained that he was awaiting the guidelines on the lifting of the travel ban before making an official declaration.
He also commended Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locin, Jr for campaigning hard against the travel ban, and was the first to announce its lifting on Tuesday.
“Special thanks go to our advocate DFA Secretary Locsin for speaking on behalf of the 240,000 strong Filipino community in Hong Kong,” ConGen Tejada said.
As of February 17, 2020 (Monday), no confirmed COVID-19 patient was confined anywhere in the Philippines although there were 171 patients under investigation who are in isolation in various hospitals. A total of 350 patients have been discharged.