COVID-19: Philippines shuts down incoming international commercial traffic

Government says temporary measure meant to head off ‘second wave’ of virus infections

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National carrier Philippine Airlines and other carriers like Cebu Pacific have cancelled all flights until 15 May. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The government of the Philippines announced Sunday (3 May) that it was temporarily suspending the use of all the country’s airports for incoming international traffic as a way to help head off a possible “second wave” of COVID-19 infections.

A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 virus tracking site taken on 4 May. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The country’s National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said the move started Sunday and could last at least a week but did not give a date certain when it would end. The authorities said only flights with en route emergencies would be allowed to use the country’s airports.

“We understand that said request, which we reiterate is a temporary measure, was made by the NTF to DOTr in order to allow the current system to ramp up its capacity to properly process the growing number of Filipino repatriates going back to the Philippines daily,” the government said in announcing the flight ban.

Part of the problem is that the country’s airports have run up against a wall when it comes to quarantining citizens who are being repatriated to the country. Currently, the government has already accommodated around 20,000 repatriates who are quarantined in metro Manila, with an arrival rate of 2,000 per day.

“This measure to temporarily suspend international passenger arrivals will enable the government to decongest the processing of this number to a more manageable level, given the need to observe strict health protocols, and the fact that existing quarantine facilities are at full capacity,” the government said. “The move is deemed necessary in order to ensure that our country will not experience a second wave of COVID-19 pandemic due to the increasing number of international passenger arrivals. It should be noted that most of our repatriated citizens are coming from countries which experienced significant COVID-19 outbreak.”

The government said the move will also allow front-line agencies to contain the spread of the virus by upgrading testing and screening protocols and expanding the existing quarantine and treatment facilities

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on Sunday issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) suspending inbound international passenger and commercial flights to the Philippines.

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The Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Outbound international commercial flights, with coordination and approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, will be allowed. Cargo flights, medical supplies, utility and maintenance flights will continue and remain unhampered.

National carrier Philippine Airlines said all of its international and domestic flights remain grounded until 15 May and all domestic and international flights at Cebu Pacific are also cancelled until 15 May.

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