GOVERNMENT has imposed a ban on travel by Filipino tourists to South Korea as it also barred travelers from North Gyeongsang province of South Korea from entering the Philippines.

As this developed, the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) 7 based in Cebu City is checking the whereabouts of 26 Korean nationals who flew in from Daegu City, North Gyeongsang province on Feb. 25, 2020, to examine their health condition.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced Wednesday, Feb. 26, the twin travel ban on Filipino tourists to South Korea and those from North Gyeongsang province to the Philippines. He said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging and Infectious Diseases approved the twin ban due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in the South Korean province.

Only permanent residents of South Korea or those leaving for study or are overseas Filipino workers there will be allowed to travel to South Korea. “They (will be required to) execute and sign a declaration signifying their knowledge and understanding of the risk involved prior to their travel,” Panelo said.

For Filipino tourists from the Philippines, they are advised not to travel to South Korea “for their safety,” Panelo added.

Cases of the Covid-19 in South Korea jumped again Wednesday, with 134 of the 169 new cases reported in Daegu, a city in North Gyeongsang. Another 19 cases were in neighboring towns.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus has infected more than 80,000 people globally and caused 2,700 deaths. (See sidebar)

If the situation in South Korea worsens, Panelo said the IATF might expand the travel ban.

“The IATF shall conduct a risk assessment of the situation within 48 hours to analyze whether it is necessary to expand the travel ban,” he said.

He clarified that the government only imposed the travel ban on North Gyeongsang, because it is only where the virus is concentrated.

“Yung iba, wala, malinis eh (The other areas are clear of the virus),” Panelo said.

In Cebu, BOQ 7 chief Terence Anthony Bermejo said the 26 Korean nationals who arrived Tuesday will be considered as persons under monitoring (PUMs) for the Covid-19. PUMs are those who have no symptoms of the disease but have traveled to countries with infection cases and deaths. South Korea had 11 Covid-19 deaths as of Wednesday.

Bermejo said his office is tracing the accommodations of these Korean nationals to closely monitor them. He will also get the health declaration forms of these passengers who boarded a four-hour direct flight from Daegu to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. There are two flights per week from Daegu to Cebu.

“We will be tracing them, contacting them and determining their whereabouts. Once we can locate them, they will be advised to stay in their respective accommodations and will be subject to close monitoring,” Bermejo said.

Should they manifest symptoms of the Covid-19, Department of Health 7 Director Jaime Bernadas said they will be confined in a hospital and will be classified as patients under investigation. Symptoms of the disease include fever, cough and colds.

For now, the Korean nationals are advised to stay in their rooms, avoid contact with others and practice proper hygiene.

Bermejo and Bernadas met with Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia late Wednesday to discuss Covid-19 updates.

During the meeting, they agreed to include travelers coming from North Gyeongsang to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Garcia said the quarantine protocols for travelers from China and its special administrative regions will continue to be applied.

In the area of tourism, Garcia said Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino may invite President Rodrigo Duterte to the Suroy-Suroy Sugbo Enchanting Camotes trail in April as a move to boost local tourism after the number of foreign tourists drastically went down because of the travel ban.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan is worried that the city’s tourism industry will take another hit with the ban on travelers from North Gyeongsang province of South Korea. Earlier, when travelers from mainland China were barred from entering the Philippines, Chan said tourist arrivals dwindled.

Travelers from South Korea and China registered as the top two tourist arrivals in the city.

In another development, Governor Garcia said she was “bothered” by the move of the Department of Education 7 to go ahead with earlier deferred major events on a new schedule amid threats of the Covid-19.

“For me, I don’t think it’s the right time. Is there really a pressing need for this, to expose our children to large crowds? You know what the conditions are during these huge meets. They are away from home. We don’t know whether there are enough sanitation facilities for the children who are exposed to the elements,” she added.

The National Festival of Talents and the National Schools Press Conference will be held on March 9 to 13 in Tuguegarao City, while the Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association will be on March 15 to 21.

“We’re lucky here but that doesn’t entitle us to be complacent,” Garcia said.

As of Wednesday, there were no new confirmed Covid-19 patients anywhere in the Philippines although the DOH continues to monitor a total of 614 persons nationwide. Of this number, only 101 persons remained in isolation in various hospitals.

The country’s three confirmed Covid-19 cases: A 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China, her 44-year-old male partner who died, and a 60-year-old Chinese woman who already returned to China.

A total of 445 Filipinos from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship MV Diamond Princess in Japan have arrived in the country and were taken to New Clark City for another 14-day quarantine.

All 445 Filipinos had tested negative for the coronavirus before they were allowed to get off the ship in Yokohama. (LMY, RTF, WBS, GCM, RSR / AP / SUNSTAR PHILIPPINES)