HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque yesterday discouraged Filipinos from traveling to two areas in South Korea where authorities are aiming to test some 200,000 members of a church at the center of a surge of new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.
Duque said Daegu City and Cheongdo County in the north Gyeongsang province have local transmissions of COVID-19.
“So far, it’s been localized in Daegu and Cheongdo. So, we ask them to postpone travel to those areas,” said Duque.
There are close to 60,000 Filipinos living and working in South Korea.
The Philippines is considering a travel ban to South Korea, the country with the most number of COVID cases outside China. Data from the World Health Organization showed almost 1,000 COVID cases as of yesterday, with seven deaths.
The travel ban will be discussed today by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases. Duque said the task force will also consider possible impacts of a ban on the economy, and tourism and transportation sectors.
“But, by and large, the public health and safety will prevail over other considerations,” he said,
The Philippine Embassy in Seoul said some 4,000 Filipino factory workers in Daegu are being protected.
Consul General Christian de Jesus said the embassy is coordinating with the Filipino community in Daegu, their employers, and local health authorities and were assured of the safety of the Filipinos there.
He said the employers are distributing face masks and ensuring that working spaces are not too crowded.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III he is not keen on a travel ban as far as deployment of Filipino workers is concerned.
“If we will be asked, we will not recommend travel ban to South Korea,” he said.
Bello said he does not believe there are enough risks from the virus, as shown by the absence of confirmed COVID case involving a Filipino.
“There remains one unverified case of a Filipino in Korea. And the cases are just contained in one area,” he said.
Due to the number of COVID cases in South Korea, the Philippine Embassy in Seoul said starting today, it will limit the number of hours of its consular services from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The embassy said Filipinos who need emergency assistance should also call its hotline at 01092638119.
Bello said the number of Filipino workers departing for Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong are lower than expected.
He said since the deployment ban was lifted in the three territories, there are workers who have yet to leave for their work sites.
“It is not as fast as we thought it would be. There are those who are already supposed to leave but haven’t yet,” said Bello.
He said one of the reasons could be the fluidity of the COVID situation globally.
“They could be taking more precautions on COVID-19. They are probably just waiting for further development, like if the conditions will improve,” said the official.
Another possible reason, he said, could be because the OFWs were able to secure a P10,000 financial assistance from the government after they got stranded.
“Also, probably because they got a financial assistance, they still have the money so they are taking their time,” said Bello. – With Ashzel Hachero