Also voices his hesitancy to extend state of calamity
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he is open to imposing COVID-19 test restrictions on travelers coming from China, which is currently facing an outbreak of the Omicron subvariant BF.7, but he is hesitant to extend the state of calamity in the country because of the pandemic.
“Yes, as long as it’s based on science and we feel that there’s a need, we will do it. But again, it depends on what the true risk is to us,” the President said on Thursday.
“If it’s something that is manageable, then I’m sure we can find a way to not completely close our borders to China, but to find a way to have a procedure so that those coming from China who may have been exposed or who may have been infected will be tested. That is our only concern,” he added.
Earlier in the day, the Department of Health said it saw no need to restrict travelers from China despite the fresh outbreak of COVID-19 cases even as the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) prepared to discuss entry restrictions.
“For the DOH, we don’t see the need to close our border or impose stricter restrictions specific to this country. As for our regulations within our borders, we cannot just have our closure and then open it and then close it again and then open it. We are all moving forward because we would like to reach that new normal,” Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos said he is more inclined not to extend the state of calamity on COVID-19, saying it was a “wrong mindset” to start the new year.
“I’m still very, very hesitant to continue the state of calamity, to extend it because again, we are not in a state of calamity anymore, technically speaking,” he said.
“And that is the wrong mindset to be approaching the new year with. So we’re still trying to find ways to continue to provide the benefits to our medical health workers, which is the main issue, without the state of calamity,” the President added.
Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista earlier recommended adopting protocols set by neighbors like Hong Kong, which requires a negative RT-PCR test upon arrival.
The United Statesjoined a growing number of countries in imposing restrictions on visitors from China after Beijing announced it would remove curbs on overseas travel as COVID-19 cases surge at home.
Hospitals across China have been overwhelmed by an explosion of infections following Beijing’s decision to lift strict rules that had largely kept the virus at bay but tanked the economy and sparked widespread protests.
China said this week it would end mandatory quarantine on arrival, prompting many jubilant Chinese to make plans to travel abroad.
In response, the United States and several other countries announced they would require negative COVID tests for all travelers from mainland China.
“The recent rapid increase in COVID-19 transmission in China increases the potential for new variants emerging,” a senior US health official told reporters.
Beijing has provided only limited information to global databases about variants circulating in China, the official said, and its testing and reporting on new cases have diminished.
The US move came after Italy, Japan, India and Malaysia announced their own measures in a bid to avoid importing new variants from China.
Beijing has hit out against “smears with ulterior motives” by the Western media.
“Over the past three years we have effectively responded to five waves of global outbreaks… winning precious time for the development of vaccines and medicines,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing Thursday.
China still does not allow foreign visitors, however, with tourist and student visas suspended.
Those eligible to arrive in China must also provide a negative PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before entering the country.
The lifting of mandatory quarantine sparked a surge in interest in overseas travel by Chinese citizens, who have been largely confined to their country since Beijing pulled up the drawbridge in March 2020.
Italy also said on Wednesday it would make coronavirus tests mandatory for all visitors from China.
France’s president said he had asked for “appropriate measures” to protect citizens and that Paris was monitoring the situation closely.
The European Commission is set to meet Thursday to discuss “possible measures for a coordinated approach.”
Chinese citizens at Beijing’s Capital International Airport largely reacted with understanding towards the measures on Thursday.
“It’s good to see our borders opening,” said a passenger bound for Budapest.
“Every country has their own policies. We just follow them and still go where we need to go.”
A 22-year-old man surnamed Hu said the rules were unnecessary and “a bit discriminatory.”
“Our COVID policy for international arrivals is applied equally,” he said. “Why do other countries need to give arrivals from China special treatment?”
On the front lines of China’s COVID wave, hospitals are battling surging cases that have hit the elderly and vulnerable hardest.
Agence France-Presse reporters saw masked patients on stretchers being unloaded from several ambulances at a major hospital in Shanghai on Thursday.
They overheard a patient arguing with hospital staff after waiting four hours to collect medicine.
Two hospitals in Tianjin, around 140 kilometers southeast of Beijing, were also overwhelmed with patients and doctors were being asked to work even if infected.
“It’s a four-hour wait to see a doctor,” staff could be heard telling an elderly man who said he had COVID. “There are 300 people in front of you.”
China’s National Health Commission said last week it would no longer release an official daily COVID death toll.
A national disease control body added just over 5,000 new local cases and one death on Thursday but, with the end of mass testing and the narrowing of criteria for COVID deaths, those numbers are no longer believed to reflect reality. With AFP