MANILA – The Philippines has barred its citizens from travelling to South Korea as tourists, as an outbreak of a coronavirus that first emerged in China continues to spread there.
“We won’t allow tourists heading for South Korea to leave. It’s for their own safety,” President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters on Wednesday (Feb 26).
Filipinos who are permanent residents, or working or studying in Korea will be allowed to leave, but they will have to sign a “declaration” that they are aware of the risks they are taking, he said.
There are about 60,000 Filipinos living in South Korea.
The Philippines is also banning everyone who has been to the North Gyeongsang province, including Daegu, the epicentre of the outbreak in Korea, from entering its borders. Mr Panelo said a task force is studying whether to expand that ban to all of South Korea. Some 1.5 million Koreans visited the Philippines last year, making up the bulk of tourists arrivals.
“The safety and security of Filipinos here and outside the Philippines remain our primary concern,” said Mr Panelo.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in South Korea jumped again Wednesday. The country’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said 134 of the 169 new cases were in Daegu, where the government has been mobilising public health tools to contain the spread of the outbreak. Another 19 cases were in neighbouring towns.
South Korea now has 1,261 confirmed infections of the virus and 11 fatalities from the Covid-19 illness it causes.
The number of cases are expected to rise as health workers finish testing hundreds of members of the Daegu branch of a church that has the country’s biggest cluster of infections. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which mainstream Christian organisations describe as a cult, provided a list of 212,000 members nationwide to government authorities who plan to widen the screening.
The Philippines has confirmed three cases of the coronavirus at home, all Chinese nationals. They include a 44-year-old man who died.
Overnight, 445 Filipinos who were mostly crew members on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan were flown back to the Philippines to begin a 14-day quarantine.
Eighty Filipinos from the ship have the virus and are staying behind in hospitals in Japan.