The government has imposed a temporary travel ban on South Korea as COVID-19 cases there shot up by 169, bringing the total number to 1,146, the Palace said Wednesday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Filipino tourists are temporarily barred from traveling to South Korea due to the rising number of coronavirus infections.
READ: Pinoys cautioned against travel to South Korea; infections rising
The ban, however, exempts Filipino workers and permanent residents of South Korea, and those who are leaving for study, as long as they sign a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risks involved in their travel.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has also imposed a ban on the entry of travelers coming from South Korea’s North Gyeongsang Province, including Daegu City and Cheongdo County, Panelo said.
The task force will also conduct a risk assessment of the situation within 48 hours to analyze if it is also necessary to ban on the entry of travelers from other parts of South Korea, he added.
“In the meantime, strict protocols with respect to travelers entering the country from these areas in South Korea will continue to be observed,” Panelo said.
Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea, the Department of Labor and Employment has not yet received any request for repatriation from Filipino workers there or from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in South Korean.
“So far, there is no request for repatriation,” said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
DOLE statistics show that there are more than 60,000 Filipino workers in South Korea, many in the manufacturing industry, construction, and entertainment. There are also hundreds of Filipinos nurses in that country.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, head of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said Filipinos and their foreign spouses or children, and holders of permanent resident and diplomatic visas will be allowed entry subject to existing screening and quarantine protocols.
Meanwhile, Duque said, the 445 Filipinos repatriated from the COVID-19-stricken Diamond Princess and quarantined at New Clark City in Tarlac will be assessed twice a day—once through telemedicine and another through actual physical examination.
They will be provided with food, hygiene kits, and appropriate health services.
READ: South Korea on highest alerts as infections surge
An ambulance team is also on standby 24/7 to conduct hospital referrals if needed. DOH hospitals in Central Luzon are prepared to cater to those who may manifest respiratory symptoms or fever.
“As observed in other countries, there is still a possibility that our nationals may eventually test positive upon their return. We have prepared and equipped our hospitals and laboratory facilities, and allocated all necessary resources ... should this happen,” Duque said.
“We have placed measures for the appropriate isolation and management of individuals who may eventually test positive for COVID-19 to contain transmission. We are ready to address any possible scenario,” said Duque.
The COVID-19 outbreak swelled on Wednesday with cases in South Korea surging past 1,000 after deaths soared in Iran and infections appeared in previously untouched countries, prompting dire warnings that the world was not ready to contain it.
The virus has rapidly spread in parts of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, even as the number of fresh cases and deaths decline at the disease epicenter in China.
Towns and cities have been sealed off in an attempt to stop the contagion, while hotels in the Canary Islands and Austria were locked down on Tuesday because of suspected cases.
In Iran, which has reported 15 deaths out of nearly 100 infections, even the country’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi said he had contracted the virus.
At the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Bruce Aylward, who headed an international expert mission to China, hailed the drastic quarantine and containment measures taken by the country.
But he told reporters that other nations were “simply not ready” to contain the outbreak.
“You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale... and it has to be done fast,” Aylward said.
The virus has killed 2,715 people and infected over 78,000 in China. There were 52 more deaths reported on Wednesday—the lowest in three weeks—with no fatalities outside the epicenter in central Hubei province.
The National Health Commission also reported a drop in new infections to 406, with only five outside Hubei—a figure that will boost confidence that the rest of the country is containing the epidemic.
In the rest of the world, there have been more than 40 deaths and 2,700 cases.
The disease has now reached dozens of countries, with Austria, Croatia, and Switzerland the latest to declare cases.
The epidemic’s disruption has also grown, with stock markets tumbling around the world, restrictions imposed on travelers and sporting events cancelled.
The WHO has called for countries to “prepare for a potential pandemic”— a term used to describe an epidemic that spreads throughout the world.
Poor countries are particularly at risk, the WHO has warned.
South Korea reported 169 new infections on Wednesday, raising its total tally to 1,146—by far the largest outside China—while an 11th person died.
A 23-year-old US soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in Daegu was also infected. Some 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea.
The vast majority—90 percent—of the new infections were in Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city and the epicenter of the outbreak, and the neighboring province of North Gyeongsang.
The streets of Daegu—which has a population of 2.5 million—have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.
Authorities urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.
China quarantined 94 air passengers arriving in Nanjing from Seoul after three people, all Chinese, on the flight were discovered to have fevers on Tuesday.
In the Middle East, Iran has emerged as a major hotspot, with three more people dying from the COVID-19 disease on Tuesday.
The country has been scrambling to contain the epidemic since last week when it announced its first two deaths in Qom, a center for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose country came to the brink of war with Iran earlier this year, said Washington is deeply concerned Tehran “may have suppressed vital details” about the outbreak there.
Gulf countries announced new measures to cut links with Iran in an attempt to stop the spread.
Meanwhile Italy—which has reported 11 deaths and more than 300 cases—has locked down 11 towns and ordered Serie A football games to be played to empty stadiums.
A young man who returned to Croatia from Italy became the first case in the Balkans region.
In the United States, which has a few dozen cases, health authorities urged local governments, businesses, and schools to develop plans such as cancelling mass gatherings or switching to teleworking as the country braces for the virus to spread further.
Russia on Wednesday warned against travel to Italy, South Korea, and Iran so as to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Noting the spike in cases in the three countries, consumer safety regulator Rospotrebnadzor urged Russians to avoid travel there “until the epidemiological situation stabilized.” With Macon Ramos-Araneta and AFPREAD: COVID-19 deaths exceed 2,000; virus hits 74,000 in 25 nationsREAD: ‘Tourist arrivals down due to COVID-19 outbreak’READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spread
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