A woman wearing a protective suit walks with a cart at the arrival area of Manila's International Airport on Wednesday. AP
Manolo B. Jara, Correspondent
The Philippine government has decided to temporarily ban the entry of foreigners and limit the entry of returning Filipinos at Manila’s international airport to 1,500 daily as it struggles to contain an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.
A government body dealing with the pandemic said the monthlong travel restrictions would start from Saturday and aim to prevent the spread into the country of coronavirus strains from other countries which are believed to be more contagious. Among those to be allowed limited entry are homebound Filipino workers (OFWs).
Philippine Airlines said it would announce some flight cancellations to comply with the temporary restriction.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the chairman of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said he signed a memorandum circular imposing the limit with effect from March 20 to April 18, adding it also aimed to prevent the spike due to the entry of the more infectious virus UK, South African and Brazilian variants into the country.
Passengers wait for their bags at the arrival area of Manila's International Airport on Wednesday. AP
Carlito Galvez, the vaccine czar, explained: "Our recommendation is that only 1,500 foreigners and OFWs would be banned, considering that we have seen a rise in the cases of the new variants. We have seen OFWs, returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and foreigners coming in so we decided to restrict our inbound passengers."
Current inbound international capacity at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Metro Manila is at 3,000 passengers daily, according to the Manila International Airport Authority.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration warned that it would penalise airlines found to be exceeding the allowed capacity, but it did not elaborate. The country's flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) also said carriers would need to cancel a number of international flights to and from Manila in compliance with the order.
At the same time, Health Secretary Francisco Duque warned that if the country could not stop the rise in COVID-19 infections, the cases would surpass the peak it reached in the third quarter of 2020.
Duque also said the rise in cases arose from increased movement and the reopening of the economy but Harry Roque, the presidential spokesman, attributed it to non-compliance of the people of the minimum health measures like wearing of face masks and face shields, observance of social distancing and the ban on mass gatherings.
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It was not immediately clear which routes and air carriers would be affected. The NCOC added the decision would be reviewed on May 18. Inbound air traffic will operate at 20% of the total current quantum, while there is no change in the existing Category C list countries.
According to details shared by the CAA, Qatar Airways was previously allowed to operate 56 flights in a week, which is now minimised to 11, followed by eight flights allowed to Gulf Air as compared to 35 flights previously in a week.
Kuwait has suspended all flights from India until further notice, Bahrain has updated International arrival procedures for passengers from India. Germany is sharply restricting travel from India and Iran has banned all flights to and from India and Pakistan.
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