Travel ban to South Korea eased, except Gyeongsang

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    NEARLY a week since the imposition of a partial travel ban to South Korea, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IAFT-EID) has decided to limit the restrictions only to North Gyeongsang province, where Daegu City and Cheongdo County are located.

    Daegu City is one of the epicenters of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in South Korea.

    “Following the IATF meeting, Filipinos heading to South Korea, except to North Gyeongsang Province, including Daegu City and Cheongdo County, will be allowed to travel, provided that they sign a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risks involved,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a statement.

    He explained the IATF decided to partially lift travel restrictions to South Korea in the face of stringent infection control measures it has put in place to contain the spread of the virus.

    “South Korea has also reported a low case fatality rate of only 0.5%, and the successful containment of local transmission to only certain areas,” Duque added.

    Last week, the Philippines banned travel to the whole of South Korea, except for Filipinos who are permanent residents of South Korea, Filipinos leaving for study, and Filipinos returning for work, provided they sign a written declaration acknowledging the risks involved.

    No changes were adopted in the travel ban from North Gyeongsang province, with travelers coming from that area still not be allowed to enter the Philippines, except Filipinos and their foreign spouses or children, and holders of permanent resident and diplomatic visas.

    Duque said the IATF has also agreed to expand travel exemptions by allowing dependents of permanent residents of South Korea, Hong Kong, and Macau to travel to the said areas as long as they sign a risk-acknowledgement declaration.

    “The IATF-EID is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 cases in other countries and is regularly updating its travel restrictions based on standardized risk assessment indicators,” said Duque.

    The Philippine Embassy in South Korea said it will distribute face masks and hand sanitizers to Filipinos living and working in Daegu. The embassy said the distribution will take place “starting this week.”

    Embassy officials earlier said they are encountering challenges due to supply shortage and purchasing restriction for the said items.

    “We will continue to do our utmost for our kababayans here in South Korea. We hope the supply of the needed items will normalized soon,” the embassy said.

    The embassy also appealed to those who want to donate face masks and hand sanitizers to contact them at 01093652312 or through email at [email protected] for coordination.

    Of the more than 60,000 Filipinos in South Korea, about 4,000 are living and working in Daegu.

    Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reported the “missing” South Korean, one of 26 South Koreans who arrived in Cebu last week, has been accounted for.

    “He is now being monitored while undergoing self quarantine in a rented space in Cebu,” said Vergeire.

    Seventeen of the 26 have returned to South Korea while eight are under self quarantine in Cebu, including the male who initially went “missing.”

    The last one is undergoing self quarantine in Angeles City, Pampanga.

    None of the 26 has shown symptoms of the virus, according to Vergeire.

    Of the Filipinos repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan that are quarantined at the New Clark City in Tarlac, Vergeire said 15 have manifested signs and symptoms of the virus and are now considered as persons under investigation (PUIs). But 14 have already tested negative while only one result remains pending, she added.

    “Eight were transported back (to NCC) as of yesterday,” said Vergeire.

    A total of 445 Filipinos from the cruise ship, including 440 crew members and five passengers, are now under quarantine. Added to those undergoing the 14-day quarantine period are the 13 repatriation team members from the DOH and Department of Foreign Affairs.

    While the DOH monitors the repatriates from Japan, nearly 200 more Filipinos may soon be repatriated from Macau.

    The IATF approved the plan for the DFA to repatriate 148 Filipinos from Macau via a chartered flight within the week.

    Duque said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is also set to repatriate 48 active members via a commercial flight.

    “Returning Filipinos will undergo the prescribed screening and quarantine measures being implemented by the Philippine Government,” said Duque.

    Another Filipino has tested positive for the virus that has killed more than 3,000, majority from mainland China where it originated.

    In an update posted on its website Monday night, the Singaporean Ministry of Health said a 34-year-old Filipina domestic helper with no travel history to China or South Korea was confirmed to be infected with the virus was immediately “warded in an isolation room at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.”

    Her employer also earlier tested positive for the virus.

    This development brought to three the number of Filipinos infected with the virus.

    Last Feb. 23, a Filipino tested positive for the virus. – With Ashzel Hachero