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Philippine workers allowed to travel to Hong Kong, Macau amid virus fear

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MANILA (Reuters) — The Philippines on Tuesday allowed Filipino workers to travel to Hong Kong and Macau, relaxing the travel ban it imposed on China and its special administrative regions to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Overseas Filipino workers wearing protective masks stand by outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, Metro Manila on Feb. 18, 2020.  REUTERS

The Philippines announced its decision before Hong Kong reported that a Filipina domestic helper became its 61st case of coronavirus in the country.

There are more than 180,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong, many working as helpers, according to the Philippine Department of Labor.

The Philippines had imposed a travel ban on China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau. It later included Taiwan in the ban, but lifted it a few days after.

There was no immediate comment from Philippine officials on how the latest development in Hong Kong will affect its decision to relax its travel restriction.

The Philippines also said it would allow foreign spouses or children of Filipinos and holders of diplomatic visas travelling from China, Macau and Hong Kong to enter the country but they will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

Initially, only Filipinos and holders of permanent resident visas travelling from these areas were allowed entry.

Recruiters have appealed to the government to exempt Filipino workers from the travel ban because many of them are breadwinners. They could also lose their visas if they failed to report for work on time, the Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines has said.

In 2019, Filipino workers in Hong Kong sent home $801 million in foreign exchange remittances, central bank data showed.

Filipinos leaving for Hong Kong and Macau for study and employment will be required to sign a declaration that they know the risks of going there, health officials said.

The Philippine government also said it will repatriate Filipino crew and passengers from the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess who wish to come home.

The cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp and carrying some 3,700 passengers and crew, has been quarantined in Yokohama since Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it traveled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said 35 of the 538 Filipinos onboard had tested positive for the coronavirus, including the eight new cases, who are all crew members.

In the Philippines, there have been three confirmed cases of coronavirus, including one death.

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