Philippine airlines cancel flights to Taiwan over coronavirus fears

A woman waits after she was not allowed to board a flight to Hong Kong at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Feb 5. Philippine officials said the Taiwan travel ban would follow the same procedures as the previously announced restrict
A woman waits after she was not allowed to board a flight to Hong Kong at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Feb 5. Philippine officials said the Taiwan travel ban would follow the same procedures as the previously announced restriction for China, Hong Kong and Macau.PHOTO: NYTIMES

TAIPEI/MANILA (REUTERS) - Taiwan urged the Philippines on Tuesday (Feb 11) to lift a travel ban on its citizens after Philippine airlines cancelled flights to Taiwan following a government ban on all foreigners travelling from the island to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Ministry spokesman Joanne Ou made the comments at a regular news briefing in Taipei, adding that some Taiwanese were stranded at airports in the Philippines after the ban was announced earlier this week.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific said they were cancelling flights to and from Taiwan to manage the risks from the fast spreading virus outbreak.

"These restrictions are in relation to the coronavirus situation, in the interest of public health and safety," PAL spokesman Cielo Villaluna said in a statement.

The Bureau of Immigration said late on Monday (Feb 10) that the travel ban will take effect immediately and will follow the same procedures as in the previously announced restriction that covered China, and its Special Administrative Regions Hong Kong and Macau.

"While not explicitly stated, we have confirmed... that Taiwan is indeed part of the ban, and this expansion shall be implemented immediately," Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement.

Filipinos and foreigners with permanent resident visas may be allowed entry but will be turned over to the Bureau of Quarantine for assessment, Mr Morente said.

More than 115,000 Filipinos live and work in Taiwan, mainly in factories and as household helpers.

Taiwan and China have close economic and cultural ties, and the island has reported 18 confirmed cases of the virus. China has reported more than 42,000 cases, by comparison, and over 1,000 deaths, centred on Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

 

The World Health Organisation has included Taiwan as part of China in its assessment that China is a "high risk" area for the virus, despite Taiwan's complaints that they have a totally separate government and health system and should not be included under China.

This has already prompted Italy to include Taiwan as part of its flight ban from China, to Taiwan's anger.