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Solon asks: Why include Taiwan in travel ban but not Singapore?

/ 03:28 PM February 12, 2020
Rep. Benny Abante

Minority Floor Leader Rep. Benny Abante. INQUIRER.net file photo / Noy Morcoso

MANILA, Philippines — Why is Taiwan included in the country’s travel ban when there are more confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) in Singapore which is not covered by the ban?

This was the question posed by House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. on Wednesday as the House committees on economic affairs and tourism jointly tackled the effects of the virus on the country’s tourism industry.

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Data from the Department of Health (DOH) show that there are 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, double than the 18 confirmed cases in Taiwan where a temporary travel ban is currently in effect.

“What is the basis on the DOH advisory to ban travel to and from Taiwan? Because I heard that the World Health Organization [WHO] did not issue advisory of banning travels to and from Taiwan. And why is it that you are not banning any travel to and from Singapore when Singapore has more issues on nCoV,” Abante asked Health Assistant Secretary Kenneth Ronquillo.

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The nCoV refers to novel coronavirus, the popular name of the virus before the WHO officially named it to COVID-19.

Ronquillo initially said that he would not be able to respond as the matter was discussed within the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The health official then said that the health department only followed a memorandum released by the Bureau of Immigration.

This prompted Abante to further press the health official for an answer, saying: “Hindi ba dapat nanggagaling din yun sa advise ng World Health Organization if you have to ban or not?”

(Shouldn’t travel bans come from the advice of the World Health Organization?)

“I’m just wondering why you have to ban travel to Taiwan when Singapore has more, diba? Why is there no ban to travel to Singapore and from Singapore?” Abante said.

“Taiwan is not part of China, it’s part of the Philippines. Taiwan is only about one hour from Batanes,” the lawmaker added, in jest.

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Ronquillo paused and consulted his colleagues before noting that while the WHO has no travel restrictions to Taiwan, country’s have the right to create their own policies.

“Looking at the geography naman in the public health perspective, tiningnan natin yung geography ng China in relation to Taiwan and incoming flights so we know that most of the flights coming into the Philippines either pass through Hong Kong or Taiwan,” Ronquillo said.

(Looking at geography from a public health perspective, we looked at China’s geography in relation to Taiwan and in terms of incoming flights, we know that most of the flights coming into the Philippines either pass through Hong Kong or Taiwan.)

“We also know that the movement of people from—between Taiwan and China is about less than an hour. So we are looking at these types of movements so, in the public health perspective, we try as much as possible to be cautious and protect our country from any entry that may put up an epidemic surge of the disease,” he added.

Abante then clarified that he is not asking the health department to impose a ban on Singapore but rather only comparing it to Taiwan.

“Sa Singapore po kasi ngayon may local transmission na so Singapore is making its way to contain all the cases within Singapore para hindi na siya lumabas so sa Singapore po may travel ban na rin ho sila,” Ronquillo said.

(Singapore already has reports of local transmission so Singapore is making its way to contain all the cases within their country so they have also imposed their own travel ban on China.)

During the hearing, the Tourism Congress of the Philippines sought the lifting of the travel ban on Taiwan, saying that there are more confirmed cases in Singapore than in Taiwan.

Abante said he hopes the health department would reconsider the request of the Tourism Congress.

“Taiwan is very near the Philippines, nearer than China,” Abante said.

Undersecretary Eric Domingo on Monday confirmed that Taiwan is included in the Philippines’ expanded travel ban.

He explained that since President Rodrigo Duterte and IATF’s resolution includes China, and the WHO follows the One-China policy, Taiwan is included in the China travel ban.

The temporary travel ban on visitors coming from Taiwan came after the Philippine government imposed the same ban on mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau as a part of its measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Edited by JPV

For more information about the novel coronavirus click here.

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TAGS: Coronavirus, Singapore, Taiwan, travel ban
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