'Screen South Korean tourists amid MERS threat'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines should tightly screen tourists from South Korea after 6 people died there due to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a lawmaker said.

"The large numbers of South Koreans coming to the Philippines as tourists and as students should be reason enough for the government to adapt stringent measure to prevent MERS from infecting our people," Valenzuela 1st District Representative Sherwin Gatchalian said on Monday, June 8.

Gatchalian cited statistics from South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that, as of 2013, the number of Koreans in the Philippines was at 88,102 – 33,267 of them were in Metro Manila. "The areas of highest concentration are Quezon City (6,655), Manila proper (6,104) and Makati (5,643)."

Noting that students come to the Philippines for short-term courses in the English language, the congressman said: "As of March 2011, 26,823 Korean students held special study permits to enroll in short term courses. According to the Philippine-Korean Cultural Center in Seoul, over 1,500 Koreans under 20 years old arrive in the Philippines every month to study English."

Learn from poor Ebola response

Gatchalian said the Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) "should learn from their poor screening of passengers" in 2014 as a precaution against the deadly Ebola virus.

He noted the following shortcomings back then:

Gatchalian said: "This time, the DOH cannot be lax in doing their job. After all, it is their responsibility to look after the health of their 'bosses.' There is no excuse in not doing their duty to the public. Imagine what would happen if an outbreak affects workers and professionals; it would ultimately disrupt the economy." 

8 precautionary measures

Gatchalian's call came as South Korea, on Monday, recorded its 6th death and biggest single-day jump in MERS infections, with 23 new cases in the largest outbreak of the potentially deadly virus outside Saudi Arabia.

MERS is considered a deadlier but less infectious cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed hundreds of people when it appeared in Asia in 2003. (READ: FAST FACTS: The MERS Coronavirus



Responding to the threat of MERS, the Philippine Embassy in South Korea advised the following precautionary measures:

with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.