Hontiveros presses DOH, IATF to create guidelines for ‘automatic travel bans’

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday pressed the Department of Health (DOH) and the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to create and strictly enforce guidelines for ‘automatic travel bans’ to and from countries with high COVID-19 infections or new variants.

“Sana hindi na maghintay para sa public clamor ang DOH at IATF bago sila mag-implement ng travel ban. Laging napakabagal kundi last minute ang desisyon. Kaya lahat na ng COVID variants sa mundo ay kumakalat na dito sa Pilipinas. Wag naman tayong maging welcoming committee ng bagong variants,” the senator remarked.

Hontiveros questioned why the IATF and DOH still do not have established protocols for imposing travel bans more than a year into the pandemic. She called out Health Secretary Duque’s initial statement that the new double-mutant variant in India was ‘not concerning’ despite India’s health experts revealing that this causes severe infection among children.

“Walang kalaban-kalaban ang mga bata sa double-mutation na ito, ni hindi sila pwede mabakunahan. May mga taong nakahiga na sa daan sa labas ng ospital. Are these not concerning to the Health Secretary? Hihintayin pa ba natin matulad sa India? Dapat nag-iimpose ng travel ban agad-agad,” she emphasized.

“Kaysa mangolekta tayo ng COVID-19 variants, dapat matagal ng nag-latag ng protocols at guidelines ang IATF sa pag-impose ng mga automatic travel ban base sa mga findings ng ibang bansa na available naman sa publiko,” she said.

Hontiveros added that the Philippines’ COVID-19 cases are quickly catching up with Indonesia, which has the most in the number of total cases in ASEAN, but lagged way behind it in terms of vaccination progress.

“The numbers tell us clearly that we have the worst COVID-19 situation in the whole region. There is no denying that. Helpless na ang taumbayan sa COVID-19 lalo na hindi listo ang gobyerno sa pagpoprotekta sa ating lahat,” she said.

“I trust that the DFA will ensure the assistance and safe return of our kababayans who will get affected by any travel ban. We should have learned from the very first COVID-19 cases of 2020, who were all travelers from China, that travel bans make all the difference. As long as COVID-19 is around, we have to remain vigilant and act fast, ” Hontiveros concluded. ###