DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 January) – The Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos), is temporarily suspending entry of “group tour travels of mainland Chinese and other Asian nationals to our city” effective January 30 as a “pro-active measure to protect our people from exposure to the much-dreaded” 2019 novel Coronavirus (n-CoV).
Samal is the first Philippine city imposing a travel restriction in relation to the n-CoV.
This, as Health Secretary Francisco Duque confirmed in a press conference in Manila on Thursday afternoon that a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China who arrived in the Philippines via Hongkong on January 21, is the first confirmed case of n-CoV in the Philippines.
She sought consultation and was admitted in one of the country’s government hospitals on January 25 after experiencing
Earlier this week, Chinese Consul-General Li Lin, said his government has asked Chinese travel agencies to stop organizing group tours to Davao City starting Monday, January 27, until further notice to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCov.
The advisory on suspension was posted on the Facebook page of Samal Island Information, the official page of IGaCoS Public Information Section.
Samal information officer Michael Homez told MindaNews that the order of Mayor Al David Uy is effective January 30.
The advisory said the temporary suspension was coordinated with the Department of Tourism.
“While we are promoting our city for tourism,” it said, “the safety of our people is foremost,” the advisory said.
It requested partners, “especially the tour operators and agencies and all other stakeholders to support the local government in this endeavor to ensure the safety of everyone.”
Homez told MindaNews the suspension is based on a verbal order of the mayor but the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC) “will have an emergency meeting on Friday to ask the Sangguniang Pandlungsod for a resolution.”
He said Mayor Uy issued the order on Wednesday following reports that 79 tourists from mainland China arrived in Davao City. He said the nearest resort to Davao City is Samal which is just a ten-minute boat ride across, so there is a big possibility they would go to Samal.
Homez said the mayor was afraid for his constituents especially since the n-CoV has no cure as yet.
“Prevention is better than cure, as they say,” Homez said, adding that the city government has taken into consideration the economic losses from this move.
Homez said several resort owners called him about the negative impact that the order would bring but he told them the mayor explained that he was after the general welfare of his constituents and would rather suffer losses from the potential tourists than sacrifice the lives of the residents. The island city has a population of 104,123 residents as of the 2015 survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Homez also said the island has no quarantine facilities and although it has hospital facilities, they are not equipped to handle n-CoV cases.
Homez said the mayor, who is presently in Manila, wants the city to buy infrared thermal cameras or heat detecting guns, also known as temperature guns at the three ports of Samal – Babak, Camp Holiday and Kaputian to determine who is febrile among the arriving passengers.
Chinese Consul-General Li earlier told MindaNews their government asked Chinese travel agencies to suspend group tours for the Jinjiang-Davao air route, which started operating in late 2018. The request does not cover individual travels, he added.
Li said some staff members of the Chinese Consulate General’s office in Davao vacationing in China due to the Spring Festival holiday have been advised to avoid visiting the areas most affected by the coronavirus before returning here.
As part also of the precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus here, Li said individual passengers have been required to have their body temperatures taken before boarding the plane and were also advised to wear protective masks.
The air route between the cities of Jinjiang and Davao is being served by Chinese airline XiamenAir twice a week.
The Philippines’ Department of Health has not imposed a ban on the entry of mainland Chinese.
At the Question Hour of the House of Representatives on Thursday, Iloilo Rep. Loren Legarda asked Health Secretary Duque if he was recommending a travel restriction on the mainland Chinese.
“That’s one of the possible options,” Duque said but “not at this very moment” because “we have to be very careful also about the possible repercussions of doing this.”
He said confirmed n-CoV cases are “not limited to China” and if a ban were imposed imposed, China might ask why they are not imposing the same on the other countries with confirmed cases.
Legarda said she was aware of political and diplomatic repercussions but of paramount interest ot her is “the health of the Filipino people.”
President Rodrigo Duterte told reporters covering the celebration of the 69th anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development on Wednesday that there is no known protocol as yet by to combat the disease but “what we can do is to limit the people entering maybe the Philippines. It could include China but at this time, I am not for it. It would not be fair.”
Asked if he was supporting suggestions to ban travel between the Philippines and some cities in China, Duterte said “not yet at this time. As a matter of fact, there is no known transmission from human to human na galing China.”
The team leader of a Chinese government expert team had actually confirmed on January 20 a human-to-human transmission of the n-CoV, according to the China Daily.
The disease has since spread to other parts of the world, with the latest confirmed case in the Philippines as announced by Duque on Thursday afternoon. (Carolyn O. Arguillas, Manman Dejeto and Bong Sarmiento / MindaNews)