10 February 2020 - One has to take every precaution possible when it comes to public health.
Last Feb. 1, the President directed the Bureau of Immigration and the NAIA management to disallow the entry of all visitors coming from China and its special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Correspondingly, we at MECO in Taiwan had an emergency meeting to draft measures in order to prevent the influx of travelers who had visited China, Hong Kong and Macau, then travel to our country through Taiwan.
There are Taiwanese businessmen who have factories in our special economic zones who have supply chain arrangements with factories in the mainland. In fact, many of the components of the global supply chain are sourced from China, and the global economy is now reeling from the effects on production of the lockdown of many cities and provinces in the mainland. But that is another story.
Taiwanese travel to and from the mainland without having to present their passports in China’s airport immigration officers, because such passports are not acceptable under the “one-China” policy. Instead they have travel permits which are recognized by immigration officials.
So we checked with the National Immigration authorities of Taiwan if they keep records of the entry of Taiwanese nationals coming from China. Getting a positive response, we then modified our visa granting rules to require a certification from Taiwan’s NIA before an entry visa to the Philippines is approved. This is an extra hassle for Taiwanese visitors especially at a time when the number of tourists to the Philippines has grown considerably by some 42-percent increase year-on-year, and which we had hoped would continue increasing this year.
But public health in our country, which has already reported three deaths due to the nCov contagion, requires extra precautionary measures. We cannot compromise on this primary responsibility.
Moreover, we suspended the grant of visas to all Chinese nationals intending to travel to our country from Taiwan. And all foreigners who have been to the mainland for the last 21 days starting last week as well would not be granted entry visas by MECO. The grant of multiple entry visas has likewise been suspended.
One benefit of this new measures is that Taiwanese would be easily cleared by immigration officers instead of the possibility of being confused for mainland Chinese. With a certification from Taiwan immigration further stamped with the MECO seal, they need not be questioned in Philippine ports of entry.
We were later informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that other representative offices in Taipei followed the new Philippine set of precautionary measures.
To prevent people from hiding their travel history when visiting the doctor and thus exploiting a loophole in the war on the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic, Taiwanese health authorities announced on Tuesday (Feb. 4) a new feature soon to be added to National Health Insurance smart cards.
The NHI card (equivalent to our PhilHealth card but with more comprehensive coverage and benefits) currently contains the medical data of the user, allowing doctors to access health records and medical history.
However, the cards present no information about their users’ travel history. After the new feature is introduced, around 330,000 Taiwanese who have recently traveled to or returned from China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be made known to physicians. This would reduce misdiagnosis while likewise lowering the risk of physicians getting infected with the 2019 nCoV.
Further, starting last Wednesday, the NIA announced that it is temporarily suspending e-Gate services for all foreign visitors effective Friday, Feb. 7. Instead, all foreign nationals will need to see an immigration officer.
Immigration officers would thus be able to better screen passengers who have travelled to countries where the nCoV has been highly prevalent in the last month or so. This suspension of electronic arrival service will also apply to all foreign nationals who hold alien residence certificates, such as our contract workers.
These and other pro-active measures are one of many reasons why Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus contagion has been quite adequate and patients infected have been effectively given treatment. Thus far, no death has been reported from the 17 patients detected as having been infected with the new viral strain.
Quick tracking of potentially infected persons and immediate medical response by Taiwanese doctors and hospitals have thus far prevented deaths, and in most cases, recovery is under way.
It makes one wonder why the World Health Organization has been quite adamant about not allowing Taiwan to participate in the global health organization for political diplomacy reasons. Health is a universal concern, and Taiwan has made several strides in medical science and practice, and has one of the most effective health systems in the whole world.
The pandemic that has gripped the world, and has profound effects not only on people’s health, but with dire economic consequences as well, necessitates an “all hands on deck” response by all countries, helping each other out instead of isolating one or the other, or condemning an entire race for that matter.