Final word on Philippine travel ban on Taiwan may be 2 days away

02/12/2020 04:36 PM
Eric Domingo, the Philippine health undersecretary
Eric Domingo, the Philippine health undersecretary

Taipei, Feb. 12 (CNA) The Philippine government could decide within the next two days whether or not to lift a travel ban on Taiwan, said Eric Domingo, the Philippine health undersecretary, at a regular press conference in Manila on Wednesday.

The ban on travelers from Taiwan was abruptly imposed late Monday night as part of the Philippines' one-China policy after it issued a similar ban on travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau on Feb. 2 to prevent the novel coronavirus epidemic from reaching the Philippines.

There were suggestions that a meeting of the Philippine task force dealing with the epidemic would take place Wednesday to decide the issue, but when Domingo was asked about the ban, he said he could not comment on it.

"The inter-agency task force has assigned a communication person for that, so anything that has to do with that will have to come from the task force," he said.

Domingo further said the task force is meeting and reassessing the situation regularly, and "I think they (members of the task force) will come up with an announcement (regarding the travel ban) maybe tomorrow or Friday."

Domingo also contradicted a comment made a day earlier by Philippine presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who said the temporary travel ban would stay until the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the travel ban on China be lifted.

Domingo said the WHO does not make recommendations with regard to travel bans.

At a press conference Monday, however, Domingo explained the ban as being driven by WHO, which classifies Taiwan as part of China rather than as a separate entity.

"If you look at the WHO map and the number of cases that they have, Taiwan is included in China," Domingo said. "So, since we have a temporary travel restriction and ban on China, then Taiwan is included."

Most countries have ignored the WHO's classification in deciding travel bans related to the coronavirus because Taiwan is governed independently of China and has been no more affected by the virus than surrounding countries outside of China.

Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations and has been blocked from participating in U.N.-affiliated organizations such as the WHO primarily because of opposition from China.

Also on Tuesday, Angelito Banayo, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), the Philippines de-facto embassy in Taiwan, urged in a column in the Manila Standard that what is a health issue not be politicized.

He acknowledged that the issue is political to an extent and that "the Philippines adheres to the one-China policy."

"But matters of health should be beyond the realm of politics, especially when we are dealing with a pandemic that even the United Nations agency, the World Health Organization, took a while to recognize even as it had already raged all over China, with manifestations of contagion in other countries as well," he said.

Banayo said nothing final has been decided on the travel restrictions.

(By Emerson Lim)

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