By Analou De Vera
The Philippine government is expected to come up with a decision on Wednesday (Feb. 26) whether or not to impose a travel ban to South Korea due to the threat of the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will convene on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
“Most likely it will come out tomorrow,” the Health chief said in a television interview on Tuesday.
South Korea has recorded the most number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are already 763 COVID-19 cases in South Korea.
Duque said several factors will be considered before such a measure is imposed on South Korea.
“Number one, the risk assessment of the local transmission, how fast this is happening in countries like South Korea. And then the volume of travelers is another metric,” he said.
“There will be economic impact assessment, tourism and transportation impact. All of these will be considered and balanced…before arriving at a recommendation. But by and large, public health and safety will prevail over other considerations.”
The Philippine government has so far imposed travel bans on China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.
Duque, meanwhile, encouraged Filipinos who are planning to visit some parts of South Korea, particularly Daegu, to postpone their travel plans.
“For all of those who are going to Daegu area, it is prudent to postpone travel to that area. They have to listen very closely to the developments there. At this point, we discourage absolutely any travel to those areas. It is not prudent to do that,” he said.
80 Filipino COVID-19 cases on cruise ship
The health chief also reported there are 80 Filipinos aboard the M/V Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan who have tested positive for COVID-19.
In a radio interview, Duque said some 450 Filipinos from the cruise ship are to be flown back to the country on Tuesday evening (Feb. 25). The repatriates will be assisted by a Philippine repatriation team composed of a nine-member team from DOH and a four-member team from the Foreign Affairs department.
The repatriates will be monitored for 14 days at the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac for symptoms of COVID-19.
Last Monday, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the repatriates will be checked twice a day. She also gave the assurance that they will be provided with food and other basic provisions.
“We will ensure that infection control and quarantine protocols will be strictly followed by our “kababayans” (countrymen) and health workers that will man the quarantine facility,” she said.
In a related development, there are two Filipinos being treated for COVID-19 in the United Arab Emirates as well as one each in Hong Kong and Singapore, Duque reported.
Possibility of local transmission
The DOH is still not letting its guard down on the possibility of community transmission of COVID-19 in the country.
“Ang lagi ko ngang sinasabi, hindi ito ang tanong — kung darating ba? Ang tanong, kailan darating. Malamang darating kasi… kahit bansang mayayaman nakapasok ang COVID,” Duque said.
(The question here is not ‘will it come?’ but rather ‘when it will come.’ Most likely it will happen… because COVID-19 has already entered some rich countries.)
Based on DOH COVID-19 tracker data, 610 persons under investigation (PUIs) for the disease have already been recorded nationwide since surveillance started in January.
Of that figure, 98 PUIs remain admitted in different medical facilities while 509 have already recovered and were discharged. There remain three confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, two of whom have already recovered while the other one died.