Gov't to weigh possible travel ban on S. Korea amid coronavirus spread: Nograles


Posted at Feb 25 2020 12:49 PM | Updated as of Feb 25 2020 01:06 PM

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MANILA - The government task force on response to emerging infectious diseases will meet Wednesday to determine if a travel ban will also be imposed on South Korea amid the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) there, a Cabinet official said Tuesday. 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases will discuss if a ban on travel will be imposed on South Korea, as has been in place for mainland China, the origin of the disease. 

"This meeting is crucial because tomorrow one of the things that were going to be talking about is South Korea. Do we impose a travel ban on South Korea or not? At what level or number of COVID-19 positives are we looking at for us to make a decision," Nograles said on ANC's Headstart. 

Nograles said the number of people positive for COVID-19 in South Korea has increased to over 800. It is known to be the highest number of infections outside China. 

"I think they are attributing it to a particular church in South Korea wherein there was one attendee who was apparently positive for COVID-19 and she infected a lot of churchgoers there," he said.

The DFA had earlier urged Filipinos to forego travel plans to South Korea amid the contagion. 

A ban, meanwhile, remains on departures to and arrivals from China and its territories Hong Kong and Macau. Government later relaxed outbound restrictions for Filipinos based in the two administrative regions following appeals from Philippine migrants who work and live there. 

Nograles said if a ban is imposed, the task force would study whether it would be for the entire country or just a certain area.

"Obviously it will have a big dent on tourism granting that I think we have about 2 million Korean tourists coming every year, they share 24 percent of the market of international tourists," he said.

South Korea was the top market for tourist arrivals in the Philippines in 2019.

Nograles said the meeting will consider the possible impact of a ban on trade and tourism, among others, citing how officials from executive departments minding these sectors are part of the task force. 

He said these would be weighed against possible health implications.

"Weigh health considerations with tourism considerations and economic repercussions and then we have to look at ano 'yung (what would be our) mitigating programs natin," he said.

Meanwhile, Nograles could not say yet when the ban on the deployment of overseas Filipino workers to China would be lifted as the disease has continued to spread there. Some 77,000 people are known to have been infected by the disease in the mainland. 

"I think safety first. For us to completely lift the ban would be a considerable and significant reduction in the number of COVID cases in China. 77,000 is too much," he said.