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New Requirement by U.S. Citizens to Get Visas for Travelling to Philippines Could Hurt Tourism

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Philippines Tourism
A requirement that U.S. citizens get visas for travel in the Philippines would hobble the Southeast Asian country's tourism industry. Pixabay

By Ralph Jennings

A requirement that U.S. citizens get visas for travel in the Philippines would hobble the Southeast Asian country’s tourism industry to ease a pair of high-level political spats, analysts say.

U.S. citizens can enter the beach-studded archipelago now on a visa-free landing stamp, saving time and any application fees before travel.

“If we look at the situation of the Philippines in relation with the U.S., of course the Philippines will lose more with that kind of option (a visa rule) than Americans,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman “Americans will have other options.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said last month via his office’s website that Americans would be required to apply for tourist visas if the United States bars entry by officials from Manila who are linked to the imprisonment of Leila de Lima, a Philippine senator who’s at odds with Duterte.

The visa requirement would dim resentment among Filipinos who believe today’s rules are unfair. Filipinos need $160 visas for the United States but do not always qualify.

Tourism impact

The tit-for-tat would bite into a tourism industry that generated $4.78 billion in the first half of 2019, analysts say, because the United States is the third largest source of arrivals after South Korea and China.

Philippines Elections
An armed police escort of opposition Senator Leila de Lima disembarks from their vehicle as she arrives to vote in the country’s midterm elections Monday, May 13, 2019 in suburban Paranaque, southeast of Manila, Philippines. VOA

Americans asked to spend time and money on a visa could go instead to half a dozen other Southeast Asian countries either visa free or with with a visa payable upon landing.

International tourist arrivals to the Philippines rose by 7.7% to 7.1 million visitors in 2018 over 2017, Philippine Department of Trade and Industry figures show. Of those visitors, 1,587,959 came from South Korea, 1,255,258 from China and 1,034,396 from the United States.

Americans often travel to the Philippines for beach holidays and tours of old Spanish architecture.

Filipino-Americans who still hold Philippine passports could still get back into their old homeland without visas. “It will probably be the tourists (who are affected), American tourists who are not from here,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Metro Manila-based advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

Senator vs. Duterte

A visa requirement would answer the Philippine government’s opposition to a U.S. budget proposal to ban entry to the United States by certain officials linked to the De Lima case.

De Lima, a harsh critic of Duterte, was charged in 2017 with orchestrating a drug-trafficking ring while justice secretary before 2015. Some believe her arrest was politically motivated.

Philippines Boracay
Visitors gather along the beach during sunset in Boracay island, Philippines. VOA

The 2020 U.S. budget contains a provision authorizing the Secretary of State to ban Philippine officials from entry if the U.S. side finds “credible information” that they “have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.”

“We have explained repeatedly that the subject provision is ineffective given that the Filipino Senator is not wrongfully detained,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said via his office’s website. If the U.S. goes ahead, he said, “This government will require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa before they can enter Philippine territory.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila did not answer a request last week for comment.

Reciprocity issue

A visa rule for Americans might also set a stage for negotiations on visa rules from both sides, Casiple said. Filipinos must apply for visas to enter the United States and not everyone gets approval.

“I think it will be within the context of renegotiation, not a policy immediately,” he said. “Particularly, it will raise the question of reciprocity.”

Filipinos have historically seen the wealthier United States as a place to find high-paid work and remit money to family back home. Tourist visa applicants pay a $160 fee and must pass a consular interview to be approved. U.S. Department of Homeland Security data show that 5,276 Filipinos overstayed non-immigrant “pleasure” visas in 2018.

Duterte might not act on his threat, some caution.

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“I don’t take Duterte’s visa threats too seriously, as he has a history of just spouting off,” said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York. “Our countries’ relationship will long outlast Duterte’s reign. We can’t overreact to every little thing he does.”

If the United States hits back, King said, it should avoid hurting an overall U.S.-friendly Filipino public and instead “personally needle Duterte.” (VOA)

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US Health Officials Prepare to Battle Flu Season as Coronavirus Fear Rises

US Prepares for Second Wave of Flu as Coronavirus Fears Rise

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Coronavirus
While there have only been 15 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as of Friday, health officials have expressed concern that if the virus were to spread in the country. Pixabay

U.S. health officials are preparing for a second wave of the winter flu season, complicated this year by similarities between flu symptoms and those of the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 in China and spread fear around the world.

A first round of seasonal flu, caused by a strain of influenza B, named B-Victoria for the city in which it was discovered, peaked in the United States in late December and then dropped off, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the CDC says a second round of flu began in late January, caused by a strain of influenza A that is related to the swine flu that first appeared in 2009, and cases continue to increase.

Coronavirus
Cesar Gonzalez reacts to getting an influenza vaccine shot at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. VOA

While there have only been 15 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as of Friday, health officials have expressed concern that if the virus were to spread in the country, it could initially look like the spread of seasonal flu.

Coronavirus testing

In part to address these concerns, U.S. health officials announced they would begin testing some patients who have flulike symptoms for coronavirus in several U.S. cities.

The testing will initially be carried out by public health labs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York, which are already testing for seasonal flu.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a telephone briefing Friday that labs will conduct the coronavirus test on patients who show flulike respiratory symptoms, but who test negative for the seasonal flu.

Both the seasonal flu and coronavirus cause respiratory illness, fever and cough. Other typical flu symptoms include sore throat, muscle aches, runny nose and fatigue, according to the CDC.

While scientists have studied the flu for decades, little is known about this coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, because it is so new. Health officials are still trying to understand all the symptoms related to the new virus, as well has how it spreads and how often cases are severe. There have been few studies on the symptoms of coronavirus, however, research suggests patients most commonly suffer from fever, cough and shortness of breath and are less likely than flu patients to suffer from a sore throat and runny nose.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus to the United States, CDC officials have put in place travel restrictions and quarantine policies for people who recently visited China. However, officials say that strategy would change if the virus were to spread quickly in the United States.

Messonnier said if there were an outbreak of coronavirus in the United States, the CDC would call for “social distancing” strategies that would include online schooling, teleworking, and canceling mass gatherings, in an effort to prevent people from spreading the virus.

Coronavirus
Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China, after a positive case of the coronavirus was announced in the Orange County suburb of Los Angeles, California, U.S. VOA

Flu kills 14,000 in US

While health officials put plans in place for any possible outbreak of coronavirus, doctors around the United States continue to help patients battle the seasonal flu. The CDC estimates that 26 million Americans have gotten sick with flu this season and around people 14,000 have died.

Health officials say the first wave of the flu, a B strain, has hit children particularly hard this season, causing 92 deaths in children. B strains are more likely to cause a more severe illness and death in children. Cases of the flu among the elderly have been down this season.

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The CDC says concern about coronavirus might have prompted more people with flu symptoms to go their doctor for testing this season, although they say there is nothing in their data to confirm this. Messonnier said if more people are going to the doctor that is a good thing. “

People being a little worried and seeking care doesn’t especially worry me, because that’s the point,” she said. (VOA)