[UPDATE] Exempted from travel ban, OFWs, PR visa holders, can now go to HK, Macau

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Passengers stranded in NAIA. Photo by Bing Jabadan

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and permanent resident visa holders can now fly to Hong Kong and Macau, more than two weeks after the Philippine government imposed a travel ban barring Filipinos from going to mainland China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told Philippine media that OFWs and PR visa holders have been exempted from the ban, which was set in place since Feb.2. He said the OFWs have to sign a declaration first, however saying they  understand the risks of going to Hong Kong and Macau.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration head Hans Cacdac told GMA News the exemption covers returning and newly-hired OFWs.

Foreign affairs Usec. Brigido Dulay said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) exempted the OFWs following a meeting on Feb.18.

“Today, DFA Sec Locsin’s advocacy has come true. OFWs returning for work in Hongkong and Macau have been exempted from the outbound travel ban by the IATF-EID, subject to certain procedural formalities. Woohoo!!,” he said.

The exemption came after a group of Filipinos affected by the travel ban appealed to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to allow them to fly to Hong Kong.

The group, called #StrandedPH, held a meeting with Cacdac on Feb.17, where they raised the implications of the said travel ban to their employment.

The Society of Hong Kong-Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines, for one, said that 2,500 domestic helpers risk termination if they cannot go back to Hong Kong.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered a travel ban to mainland China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau following the death of a Chinese national infected with CODIV-19 on Feb.2. The said virus has affected over 70,000 people in 27 countries and territories, with majority of the infections reported in mainland China.

The travel ban was later expanded to cover Taiwan, but government authorities also recalled the said order on Feb.14. The travel ban to Taiwan was lifted days after the Taiwanese government threatened to retaliate by revoking the visa-free entry privilege extended to Filipinos.