Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 arrival area (File photo)

MANILA – The Philippines has suspended the entry of foreigners and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) who are considered as non-overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from March 20 until April 19 amid a spike in Covid-19 cases and the entry of new variants in the country.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the temporary travel restriction is stipulated under National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 Memorandum Circular No. 5.

“Naglabas ang National Task Force Against Covid-19 ng isang kautusan kahapon, 16 ng Marso na pansamantalang nagsusumpinde ng pagbibyahe sa Pilipinas ng mga dayuhan at returning overseas Filipinos or balikbayans na hindi kabilang sa kategoryang overseas Filipino workers simula sa Sabado, ika-dalawmput ng Marso hanggang ikalabing-siyam ng Abaril ngayong taon. Ito ay dahil sa tumataas na mga kaso ng Covid-19 at ng pagpasok ng coronavirus variants sa bansa na iniiwasan nating mapuno ang ating mga quarantine facilities (The National Task Force Against Covid-19 on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, released a memorandum circular, which temporarily suspends travel into the Philippines of foreigners and returning overseas Filipinos who are considered as non-overseas Filipino workers beginning Saturday, March 20, 2021, 12:01 a.m. until April 19, 2021. This is in view of the rising COVID-19 cases and the entry of the coronavirus variants in the country as we avoid overcrowding our quarantine facilities),” Roque said in a press statement.

Exempted from the travel restriction are holders of 9(e) visas (foreign government officials including their family members and attendants) and medical repatriation and their escorts duly endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs–Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) or the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Distressed returning overseas Filipinos duly endorsed by the DFA-OUMWA; and emergency, humanitarian, and other cases as approved by the NTF are also exempted.

Concerned agencies of the government were also directed to limit the number of inbound international passengers, or those arriving in the Philippines, to only 1,500 a day.

“Kailangan natin gawin ang decisive na action na ito para hindi po kumalat ang virus pati na po yung mga variants nito (We need to implement this decisive action to prevent the further spread of this virus and its new variants),” Roque said.

In a press briefing, NTF chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the cap on the number of inbound passengers allowed entry per day will be increased once Covid-19 cases decrease.

“Considering that we have a continuous surge, ito po yung tinatawag nating major intervention para ma-prevent natin yung probability na more or less 3,000 ng mga carriers ng mga variants (Considering that we have a continuous surge, this is our intervention to prevent the probability of having more or less 3,000 carriers of new variants),” Galvez said.

Last Saturday, the Department of Health confirmed a new Covid-19 variant called P.3 has been traced in the country.

The DOH also confirmed the country’s first case of the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil from samples of an overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who just returned from Brazil.

Aside from the P.3, P.1 variants, health authorities also discovered in recent samples more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom and additional cases of the B.1.351 variant from South Africa.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) earlier issued a directive to airlines, limiting the number of inbound international passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to 1,500 daily from March 18 to April 18.

In an advisory dated March 15, CAB said airlines that exceed the allowed capacity will face a penalty.

Airlines were also advised to comply with the directives of the Bureau of Immigration on the kind of essential inbound travelers who will be allowed entry to the Philippines.

The country has so far recorded 631,320 Covid-19 infections with 560,736 recoveries and 12,848 deaths.

Malacañang said that the surge in Covid-19 infectious does not call for a stricter lockdown in Metro Manila. Currently, localized lockdowns are being implemented in areas with high number of cases. (PNA)