MANILA: The Philippines on Sunday (Nov 28) further tightened border controls to keep out the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, adding seven European countries to a travel ban that initially covered seven African nations.
The Omicron variant kept spreading around the world on Sunday, with 13 cases found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia.
The Philippines coronavirus task force placed Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy under its so-called "red list" until Dec 15, banning the entry of travellers from these countries.
The ban initially covered South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.
The government also backpedalled on a plan to allow the entry of some vaccinated foreign tourists starting Dec 1.
"Inbound international travel of all persons, regardless of vaccination status, coming from or who have been to red list countries/jurisdictions/territories within the last 14 days prior to arrival to any port of the Philippines, shall not be allowed," acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a statement.
The Philippines, which is one of the region's worst-hit countries in terms of infections, deaths and economic losses, has gradually reopened its borders and economy.
Its new daily case count dropped to 838 on Sunday, the lowest since December 2020 - compared with a record peak of more than 26,000 in September - after having fully inoculated more than 35 million Filipinos, or 46 per cent of the targeted population.
The goal is to increase the number of vaccinated individuals to 54 million by year-end, or 70 per cent of the targeted population, 77 million by the end of March 2022, and 90 million by end-June, according to Carlito Galvez Jr, who leads the government's vaccination strategy.
Galvez on Sunday disclosed a deal to buy an additional 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, intended for booster shots and paediatric vaccinations next year.