MANILA (Reuters) - A province of islands in the southern Philippines will seal itself off for an initial two weeks from Monday to keep out a new COVID-19 variant found in nearby Malaysia, its governor said.
Sulu, home to more than 900,000 people, currently has just two known active cases of the coronavirus, from 242 so far recorded, of which 12 were deaths.
"This is for securing our shores from the reported COVID-19 strain in Sabah, Malaysia considering we are so near," Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan told ANC news channel on Thursday.
A top Malaysian health official last week it had found a new variant in the country, but had yet to detect the highly infectious variant that was originally discovered in Britain.
Sulu has requested the national government provide more vessels and helicopters to monitor its sea borders with Sabah in Malaysia.
The lockdown will be in place from Jan. 4 to Jan. 17 but could be extended, Tan said. Residents not currently on the islands would be denied entry from Monday.
The Philippines has had more than 472,000 infections overall, among the highest caseloads in Southeast Asia, mostly in the capital Manila.
Despite strict entry and quarantine requirements on entry via its international airports, its vast southern sea borders are notoriously porous, with long established trade and travel routes between its islands and Sabah.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Martin Petty)