The government on Tuesday partially lifted the travel ban to South Korea, allowing Filipino tourists to go there except to North Gyeongsang Province, including Daegu City and Cheongdo County, where novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases are concentrated.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Filipinos who intend to visit other parts of South Korea must execute and sign a declaration, signifying they understand the risks involved in taking the trip.
Panelo added that foreign nationals traveling from North Gyeongsang Province, including Daegu City and Cheongdo County, are still prohibited from entering the Philippines.
The Palace official made the announcement after the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases convened to review travel restrictions and protocols imposed by the government.
The task force said South Korea has reported a low case fatality rate of only 0.5 percent and the successful containment of local transmission to only certain areas.
The IATF also agreed to expand travel exemptions allowing dependents of permanent residents of South Korea, Hong Kong, and Macau to travel to these areas as long as they also sign a risk-acknowledgment declaration.
On Tuesday, South Korea “declared war” on the coronavirus as cases inside the country reach 4,812, the highest number of COVID-19 cases after China.
About three-fourths of the cases are in the southeastern city of Daegu. The country also recorded a total of 28 deaths, pushing global fatalities over 3,100.
“Guided by the Health Security Risk Assessment Matrix, which evaluates the hazard, exposure and context relative to the risks involved, the IATF has also agreed that there are to be no new imposition of travel restrictions or lifting of the same as regards other countries or jurisdictions,” Panelo said.
On Feb. 26, the government imposed a temporary travel ban in South Korea but exempted Filipino workers and permanent residents, as well as those who are leaving for study.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been preparing for the repatriation of 148 Filipinos from Macau via a chartered flight, while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has been arranging to repatriate 48 of its active members through a commercial flight, Panelo said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said repatriated Filipinos will undergo the prescribed screening and quarantine measures being implemented by the government.
“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. We are working nonstop to ensure that our [countrymen] are protected from COVID-19 no matter where they are,” Duque said. “To date, we have not recorded any cases of local transmission of COVID-19 in the country. The WHO Director General has cited the Philippines as among the few countries in the world which have not recorded any new cases of COVID-19 for more than two weeks,” he added.
Also on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday called for the immediate repatriation of Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong who were reportedly being sacked from their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’ll prepare for their repatriation pronto. Deeply disgusted with Hong Kong which begged us to let domestic workers return to work,” Locsin said in his Twitter account.
Locsin had recommended the lifting of the travel ban to China’s administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau following the COVID-19 outbreak, citing in particular, Hong Kong’s better facilities to handle the disease.
Before seeking President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval on the lifting of the travel ban, Locsin already talked to Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian to get an assurance that the returning Filipino workers to Hong Kong and Macau would get similar treatment as the locals amid the spread of the disease.
“I extracted promise from the Chinese ambassador that they’d be given same protection from COVID-19 as HK residents,” Locsin twitted. “I should (have) specified from Hongkongers.”
On Feb. 18, the government lifted the ban, allowing Filipino workers to return to their employers in Hong Kong and Macau provided they sign a written declaration that they are aware of the risks in going back to their respective workplaces.
But a report published by the South China Morning Post detailing the dismissal of several foreign domestic workers, including Filipinos, appalled the country’s top diplomat.
“Very sad to read this. We’ve done good by you, Hong Kong. We expect you to do good by our people,” Locsin said.
Reports indicated that there are at least two Filipinos found positive with COVID-19 in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Embassy in Iran has shortened its regular operations to only three hours following a spike in cases of COVID-19 that already affected even the highest levels of the government in that country.
In an advisory posted on its official social media site, the embassy also asked all its clients to wear a mask when entering its premises in consideration of those who are also inside, including consular personnel who are attending to various applications.
It also reiterated its reminder to all Filipinos in Iran to take appropriate health precautions to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 infections and avoid going to places with large crowds and gatherings “for the time being.”
Reports showed that there are already more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iran, including seven of the country’s top officials.
The DOH said the number of patients under investigation still admitted in hospitals for COVID-19 is now only 23 as of Tuesday morning.
Overall, the number of patients checked by the DOH for the potentially fatal disease is now at 639.
This was significantly lower than the 43 still admitted in various health facilities nationwide as of Monday morning.
DOH data showed a total of 613 patients under investigation have been discharged from hospitals after testing negative for the disease.
Three Chinese nationals earlier tested positive for the viral infection: the Chinese man who died on Feb. 1, his partner who already recovered from the disease, and another Chinese woman who already flew back to China.