Philippines to shut border to foreigners as virus cases surge

MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines will close its border to foreigners and restrict the number of Filipinos entering the country as authorities battle to contain a spike in coronavirus infections.

The temporary measures come after the number of daily cases hit a seven-month high of 5,404 on Monday and experts predict the figure could double by the end of March.

Most of the active infections are in Metro Manila where targetted lockdowns, night-time curfews and a stay-at-home order for all children are being used to curb the spread.

The ban on overseas arrivals was announced late Tuesday by the government’s COVID-19 task force and takes effect on March 20.

Overseas Filipino workers will be exempt, but the number of passenger arrivals will be limited to 1,500 a day, it said.

Authorities have blamed the infection surge on poor compliance with health protocols, such as wearing a mask and face shield in public, and more contagious variants of the virus.

A year after ordering the first lockdown that crippled the country’s economy, threw millions out of work and triggered record hunger, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged Filipinos to “not despair”.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. PHOTO: AP

“It’s a small thing in our lives. We went through (things that) are more severe, more difficult and brought more tears,” Duterte said on Monday.

His remarks sparked anger among social media users and opposition lawmakers who accused him of belittling the suffering of health workers and people who have lost loved ones to the disease.

Duterte’s government has been flayed over its handling of the pandemic, which has infected more than 630,000 people. Nearly 13,000 have died.