PH mulls travel ban to S. Korea

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    THE Philippines is looking at imposing a ban on travel to South Korea which has raised the highest alert level for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

    Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) is set to discuss, among others, the COVID-19 situation in countries outside China.

    The task force “decides on such matters of restricting travel from other countries, such as South Korea,” she said.

    Aside from South Korea, she said they will also discuss a possible travel ban in countries with high cases of COVID-19, such as Singapore.

    “It’s going to apply for all countries, aside from what we have right now for China, Hong Kong, and Macau, because we have standard guidelines for that,” said Vergeire.

    On Sunday, South Korea raised its disease alert to the highest level due to a surge in the novel coronavirus infections.

    Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that there were already 602 COVID-19 cases in South Korea, including 5 deaths, making it the country with most confirmed cases outside China.

    Asked for the criteria for imposing or lifting a travel ban, Vergeire said these are volume of travelers to and from the particular country, burden of infection, risk of exposure, and stringent protocols of the concerned territory.

    Earlier, the IATF-EID imposed travel ban in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan amid the spread of the COVID-19.

    The Philippine government, though, has already lifted the ban in Taiwan, while partially lifting the restrictions in Hong Kong and Macau.

    Ed Menez, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said government is verifying information that a Filipino tested positive for COVID-19 in Seoul.

    On the eve of the repatriation of Filipinos on board MV Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, the number of those afflicted with COVID-19 has risen to 59, Vergeire said.

    “To date, 59 of the 538 OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) from the cruise ship have been confirmed with COVID-19,” said Vergeire.

    Of the 59, two have recovered and have been discharged from the medical facilities in Japan.

    But the two will not join those set to be repatriated today.

    “Separate arrangements are being made for the two’s return to the Philippines,” Vergeire said.

    Vergeire also said the two as well as the other 57 Filipinos afflicted with COVID-19 will no longer undergo the 14-day quarantine period if they decide to return home.

    “They will just be monitored. They will be considered as persons under monitoring (PUM).

    They are only advised to do self quarantine, which can be done at home,” said Vergeire.

    As to the more than 400 asymptomatic Filipinos in the cruise ship, who sought to be repatriated, she said they are set to return home today.

    Almost 500 Filipinos were originally scheduled to be repatriated last Sunday, but the trip was pushed back after Japanese health authorities were unable to complete the required laboratory testing.

    Under the repatriation plan, the DOH is set to screen and allow only the repatriation of Filipinos, who are negative for COVID-19.

    They will be checked for symptoms of respiratory illness when they disembark from the ship, take the bus to the airport, and while on board the aircraft back to the Philippines.

    Upon landing and disembarkation, Vergeire said, another screening will be conducted with those who will manifest signs of respiratory illness to be immediately brought to a hospital for isolation and management.

    On the other hand, those who were asymptomatic throughout the flight will be directly transferred to the quarantine facility at New Clark City in Tarlac.

    During the 14-day quarantine procedure, Vergeire said, 20 medical teams from DOH hospitals will manage the quarantine facility. Patients will be checked twice a day and provided food and other basic needs.

    Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said government is arranging the repatriation of some Filipinos in Macau. He said Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment are now ironing out the details. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero