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Immigration officers have shut down the electronic gates (e-gates) in all Philippine international airports since the implementation of temporary travel ban / PNA

Longer queues expected at airports amid COVID-19 measures

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International passengers will experience longer queues at Philippine airports after authorities shut down the electronic gates (e-gates) in line with measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

As the government implements temporary travel ban on visitors from China and its Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong and Macao), and recently from Taiwan, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) has been shutting down e-gates in all international airports serving direct flights to/from concerned areas.

BI spokesperson Dana Sandoval told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Thursday that BI has been doing this since the implementation of the travel ban.

"If there is a direct flight from areas of concern, then e-gates are shut down," she said.

The move aims to enable Immigration officers to check the travel history of arriving passengers since e-gates are unmanned and were installed for Philippine passport holders. The temporary travel ban excludes Filipinos and permanent resident visa holders.

"Initially, only foreign nationals were required to fill up our arrival cards. However, to be able to assist the DOH (Department of Health) in securing more data that might be useful in contact tracing, we have expanded its use to include even Filipino nationals," she explained.

There is no specific duration as to how the BI would shut down the e-gates, or if it would allow its usage once all passengers from China were processed, for instance.

"It (shutting down of e-gates) may be done for the duration of the travel ban. There is no specific duration, but most of the time, for prudence, they are shut down," she clarified.

With the shutdown of e-gates, other passengers are affected as they would also need to go to the regular counters.

"It's a small sacrifice to ensure that all passengers are thoroughly screened, to see if (anyone) came from the areas of concern," Sandoval remarked.

Using e-gates only takes about 8 to 15 seconds to process the entry of a passenger. It helps in reducing the long queues at immigration counters, and takes only about one-third of the usual processing time.

E-gate users would only need to scan their boarding pass and passport, face the camera, and place their forefinger to the scanner.

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