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Almost 800 immigration officers on the frontlines at Philippine ports amid nCoV threat

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has deployed almost 800 frontline officers at Philippines' airports and seaports amid an outbreak of the new coronavirus that has prompted a temporary ban on travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval assured the frontliners "that their welfare and safety are of utmost concern, given the risks of their jobs, as they have direct and face-to-face contact with the travelling public."

Immigration officers will also be debriefed, said BI port operations chief Grifton Medina.

In a message shared by Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, Medina said the bureau is preparing debriefings by professional psychologists for its personnel. The service will cover officers at regular counters and for those who are joining voluntary homecoming or repatriation, he said.

Perete earlier said a special team of officers will handle immigration procedures for Filipinos who will be returning home from Hubei.

Several airlines around the world have suspended China flights in the wake of the virus outbreak that has killed 350 people in Hubei province alone, whose capital city of Wuhan is thought to be the epicenter for the outbreak.

The Philippines has confirmed two cases so far, one of whom -- a 44-year-old Chinese man -- died on Saturday, the first death from the virus outside of China.

The 44-year-old was a companion of the country's first case, a 38-year-old Chinese woman. Both of them travelled from Wuhan via Hong Kong and went to Cebu and Dumaguete before flying to Manila.

They were confined at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

"Over the course of the patient's admission, he developed severe pneumonia," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said of the man on Sunday. "In his last few days, the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement. However, the condition of the patient deteriorated within the past 24 hours resulting in his demise." 

President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed a temporary travel ban on all travelers coming from mainland China and its special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau, amid the virus threat.

The Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia have canceled flights between China and the Philippines. — RSJ, GMA News