Philippines imposes travel ban on seven European countries over Omicron variant

MANILA, Nov. 28 (Xinhua): The Philippines on Sunday imposed travel restrictions on seven European countries to keep out the potentially more contagious new coronavirus variant Omicron, a government spokesman said on Sunday.

Cabinet Secretary and acting Presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy are placed under the "red list" effective from Sunday until Dec. 15.

The Philippines has flagged 14 countries and regions with reported Omicron cases so far. On Friday, it also suspended flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

"Inbound international travel of all persons, regardless of vaccination status, coming from or who have been to red list countries or jurisdictions or territories within the last 14 days prior to arrival to any port of the Philippines shall not be allowed," Nograles said in a statement.

He said only Filipinos returning via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation may be allowed entry subject to the prevailing entry, testing, and quarantine protocols for high-risk countries or regions.

Nograles said passengers already in transit and all those who have been to the seven European countries within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines and arriving before 1:00 a.m. local time of Nov. 30 shall be allowed entry.

These travelers must undergo facility-based quarantine for 14 days with testing on the seventh day, regardless of a negative RT-PCR swab result.

On the other hand, Nograles said passengers who have already arrived before Sunday are currently undergoing quarantine according to the classifications of their country of origin and their respective testing and quarantine protocols.

Travelers, whether Filipinos or foreign, that merely transited through the flagged countries and stayed at the airport the whole time will be allowed to enter but must comply with existing testing and quarantine protocol.

The government also suspended the entry of fully vaccinated nationals or tourists coming from low-risk, non-visa-required countries or regions.

With the emergence of Omicron, the Philippines vowed to strengthen the local COVID-19 response to tackle the new variant.

The government urged the local government units to heighten their alert for increasing and clustering of cases and to emphasize the need for active case finding.

It also required local authorities to immediately conduct contact tracing and isolation of cases detected from case surveillance among the community, including domestic and international travelers, and to use RT-PCR testing to allow for whole-genome sequencing of collected samples.

The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported 838 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,831,807.

The country has recorded fewer than 1,000 daily cases for five straight days, and 156 more people have died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country's death toll to 48,361. - Xinhua

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