MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippines on Wednesday, February 26, temporarily prohibited Filipino tourists from traveling to South Korea due to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) scare.
The Philippine government also banned the the entry of travelers from South Korea’s North Gyeongsang province, which has been grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease cuased by the novel coronavirus.
“Any travel to South Korea will be temporarily suspended,” Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press conference but added groups of people not covered by the ban.
Duque said permanent residents, overseas Filipino workers with jobs in South Korea, and students based in that country will still be allowed to travel to South Korea, subject to proper precautionary measures.
Before proceeding to South Korea, those who are not covered by the travel ban will be required to sign a declaration that they know and understand the risks involved in traveling to South Korea.
As of 3:40 pm on Wednesday, South Korea recorded the highest number of 2019-nCoV cases outside mainland China at 1,146. Of this number, 12 died while 22 had recovered from COVID-19.
In the case of the ban on the entry of travelers from North Gyeongsang province, Duque clarified that "Filipinos and their foreign spouses and children, and holders of permanent resident and diplomatic visas will be allowed entry subject to exiting screening and quarantine protocols."
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the inter-agency task force decided to impose only a partial travel ban on those arriving from North Gyeongsang because the South Korean government gave its assurance that it will be able to isolate the 2019-nCoV cases there.
"There's an assurance from the South Korean government that they'll be able to contain 'yong problema at isolated, most of the cases are isolated in these two areas, meaning to say mostly Daegu City and Cheongdo county. But in-expand na rin natin [ang travel ban] sa buong province of North Gyeongsang," Nograles said.
(There's an assurance from the South Korean government that they'll be able to contain the problem and most of the cases are isolated in these two areas, meaning to say mostly Daegu City and Cheongdo county. But we decided to expand the travel ban to the entire province of North Gyeongsang.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a news briefing on Wednesday that the government body on top of COVID-19-related measures would determine the need for an expanded South Korea travel ban.
“The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases shall conduct a risk assessment of the situation in the aforesaid country within 48 hours to analyze whether it is necessary to expand the travel ban” to cover other parts of South Korea, Panelo said, adding that “strict protocols” will be observed on travelers arriving from areas not covered by the ban.
South Korea is the Philippines' number one source of foreign tourists, followed by China. Earlier this month, the Philippine government imposed a travel ban on travelers from China, Macau, and Hong Kong over the COVID-19 outbreak.
A big question, however, is how authorities in either country would be able to distinguish travelers who have been to North Gyeongsang, from those who have not. Most flights coming into the Philippines from South Korea take off from Busan, Incheon, or Jeju, with passengers from different areas.
“Hindi ko alam kung paano ang kanilang protocol doon (I don’t know about their protocol there). I will ask them how. Siguro (Maybe) in cooperation with the Korean government because…they’re also trying very hard to contain the spread of the virus so magkakaroon siguro sila ng coordination (they’ will probably have coordination),” Panelo replied.
South Korea has reported more than 1,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – the name of the disease the novel coronavirus, the largest number of infections outside China. There have been 11 deaths from the disease in the country.
The vast majority – 90% – of the recent infections were in Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city and the epicenter of the outbreak, and the neighboring province of North Gyeongsang, Agence France-Presse reported.
In the Philippines, health officials have probed 610 patients for the virus. There had been 3 confirmed cases of infection – all Chinese tourists – of whom one died and two recovered.
A total of 84 Filipinos have contracted the virus outside the Philippines – two in the United Arab Emirates, one in Hong Kong, one in Singapore, and 80 who were onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.