MANILA – Now that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said he is open to imposing additional restrictions on travelers from China following a new surge of severe Covid-19 cases, a senator said the situation must be treated seriously.

PRECAUTION. A medical worker takes a swab sample from a child for nucleic acid test in Liangjiang New District, Chongqing, China on Aug. 24, 2022. China will cancel nucleic acid tests for international arrivals starting Jan. 8, 2023 whle those with with an abnormal health status declaration or fever symptoms will receive an antigen test. (Xinhua/Huang Wei)


Business as usual is not an option, according to Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday.

In a statement, she suggested that the Inter-Agency Task Force study and review restrictions now that there is an influx of tourists.

Bago sana lumarga ang Pangulo sa planong state visit sa China, kailangang magtakda muna ang administrasyon ng karagdagang layers of health security and safety protocols para sa mga turistang papasok sa Pilipinas ngayong bagong taon (Before he President leaves for the China state visit, the administration must set additional layers of health and security protocols for tourist coming to the country this new year),” Hontiveros said.

DFA Assistant Secretary Nathaniel Imperial previously said a bubble arrangement has been agreed for the Philippine delegation to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.

Marcos’ state visit on Jan. 3 to 5 is upon the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On Thursday, Marcos said the Department of Health would first have to study the country’s risk of a possible new wave of infections coming from China while Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said requiring travelers from China to undergo testing as safety measure is being studied.

“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,” he said in a video message from the Office of the Press Secretary.

South Korea, Italy, Japan, India and the United States have reinstated the requirement of Covid-19 testing of inbound passengers from China.

The US included testing for travelers from Hong Kong and Macau due to lack of “adequate and transparent” Covid data.

Malaysia has also required temperature screening checks for fever from passengers from China, with symptomatic or those with self-declared symptoms to be sent to a quarantine center or to health authorities.

Hontiveros is hoping that China will abide by the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005, a legally binding agreement of 196 countries to build the capability to detect and report potential public health emergencies worldwide.

The IHR requires that all countries have the ability to detect, assess, report and respond to public health emergency.

“China has always been publishing information on Covid-19 deaths and severe cases in the spirit of openness and transparency,” said Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission, during a press briefing held by the State Council Information Office as reported by state news agency Xinhua.

Hontiveros advised front-liners in the travel industry to strictly implement health protocols and have themselves fully vaccinated and boosted as protection against the continuing pandemic.

Bagaman kinikilala natin ang freedom of movement ng bawat isa, natutunan na natin noong 2020 na ang pagbabantay sa ating mga border ay isang matibay na paraan upang siguraduhing matatag ang proteksyon ng mga Pilipino laban sa Covid-19 at mga bagong variant nito (While we respect the freedom of movement, we learned in 2020 to guard our borders, the most effective way to protect our countrymen form Covid-19 and its new variants),” Hontiveros said.

Closing the country’s borders to China will be the last resort, Marcos said, adding that additional Covid-19 testing may suffice.

The United Kingdom-based BBC reported 13 coronavirus-related deaths in China in December while research company Airfinity estimates cases in the East Asian country would reach 3 million by January.