By Ben Rosario
Diplomatic relations with China may sour if the Philippines decides to bar mainland Chinese from entering the country as part of preventive measures against the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) here, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
Duque told House members during Question Hour on Wednesday at the House of Representatives that while a temporary ban on Chinese tourists has been among the options being studied by government to dodge the deadly nCoV disease, there may be serious “political and diplomatic repercussions” with such a move.
The health official responded to a question thrown by Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda. She said that since government may be incapable of handling a medical crisis of the same proportion as that of the Wuhan outbreak, prohibiting the entry of Chinese from Wuhan and other areas in China can be the prudent way to prevent a similar outbreak in the Philippines.
Legarda asked Duque if it would be a wise and pro-active move to impose a temporary ban on “mainland (Chinese)” from entering any port in the Philippines.
“The confirmed cases are not limited to China,” Duque said.
However, the health official assured congressmen that the Department of Health (DOH) will look into the proposal as soon as it makes the necessary revisions in the guidelines against nCOV.
“It’s very tricky and difficult issue,” he admitted.
Legarda said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. agreed with her idea that a temporary closure of the country against mainland Chinese tourists has become one of the strongest options for Philippines to avoid nCoV.
“I just value too much the health of the Filipino people,” she said, citing the case of Subic residents who protested against the entry of a Chinese cruise ship.
Legarda said she was not just echoing her personal stand “but I’ve also been asked not only by my constituents but also by other representatives who are shy to ask this.”
Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, Duque’s predecessor as DOH chief, questioned Duque about the effectiveness of wearing surgical masks to avoid the dreaded virus that has killed over 100 people in China so far.
However, Garin failed to get a clear response from Duque, prompting her to declare that using surgical masks may not be effective in preventing sickness.
“Since we are running out of time, let me answer the question. Walang epekto against corona ang surgical mask,” Garin said, explaining that wearing surgical masks might even increase the odds of catching disease.