President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the Philippines’ travel ban on flights from the United Kingdom over the threat of a new and more infectious strain of the coronavirus.

Duterte approved on Saturday night Palace spokesman Harry Roque’s recommendation to extend the travel ban, which was supposed to end on the midnight of Jan. 1, 2020, for another two weeks.

“As a matter of fact, I’m telling you there is no way of knowing how this thing would evolve. It is evolving itong new strain but how far, how fast is the progression, wala pa tayong alam. So the best way is really to play safe. You put a stop sa travel nila. That is a good,” the president said in a meeting with infectious disease experts.

The new SARS-CoV-2 was up to 70 percent more infectious, according to British authorities.

Duterte also approved the recommendation of the Department of Health for the mandatory 14-day quarantine of travelers coming from countries that have reported cases of the new Covid-19 variant such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, regardless of RT-PCR test results.

“Travel restrictions in countries that have recorded cases of the Covid-19 new variant when transmission of the new variant in these countries have been confirmed at the community level; and all positive RT-PCR specimens of UK travelers must be forwarded to the Philippine Genome Center, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, for genome sequencing,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement Sunday.

UK traveler in PH tests Covid-19 positive

During the same briefing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reported that among the 79 travelers from the United Kingdom who arrived in the Philippines before the travel ban, one tested positive for Covid-19.

“Mula Dec. 22 to 25, umabot na po sa 79 na pasahero mula UK ang dumating sa bansa… base sa report kahapon po, 59 na ang mayroon ng test results kung saan 53 ang negative ngunit may isa pong nagpositibo sa Covid at inaantabayanan natin ang 23 na natitirang resulta,” he said, citing a National Task Force Covid-19 report.

Duque said it was still undetermined if the lone virus-positive traveler was carrying the new strain of coronavirus.

“‘Yung testing po nito, Mr. President, hindi po nangangahulugan na ito na po ‘yung new variant dahil magsasagawa pa po ng pagsusuri ang atin pong mga eksperto mula sa Philippine Genome Center,” he told Duterte. John Ezekiel J. Hirro