By Leslie Ann Aquino and AFP
The Department of Labor and Employment announced on Thursday that it is scaling down the deployment of newly hired overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea in the wake of the threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“We are scaling down the deployment for new hires as we are still observing the situation,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in an interview.
The government had earlier implemented a travel ban to Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea due to the disease.
But the travel ban for new hires and returning workers to Hong Kong and Macau has already been lifted.
On Wednesday, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases resolved to impose travel restrictions for South Korea, effective immediately.
However, permanent residents of South Korea, Filipinos leaving for study, and OFWs will be allowed to leave for the East Asian country provided that they sign a written declaration acknowledging the risks involved.
Bello, meantime, welcomed the exclusion of OFWs in the temporary travel ban.
“We are happy because we said we were really against a travel ban in case there will be one,” he said.
“If we are talking about South Korea, although there are a thousand contaminated people, not a single Filipino is contaminated because they have been complying with the labor advisory of our labor office there,” added Bello.
According to DOLE, there are about 60,000 Filipino workers in South Korea.
While no Filipino has been infected by COZVID-19 in South Korea, the Hong Kong Health Department has confirmed that a 29-year-old Filipina has tested positive for the virus.
In a statement, the Philippine Consulate office in Hong Kong said it immediately called the concerned Filipino who is working as a domestic helper in the former Crown Colony to ascertain her condition
“She is in good spirits and said she no longer has fever. She added that she is well taken care of but hospital visits are not allowed given that she is in isolation,” the Consulate said.
It was learned that the COVID19-affected Filipino national requested for some personal items that the Consulate will immediately deliver anytime Thursday. The OFW also requested the Consulate to keep her identity.
As of today, the Consulate said only one Filipino remains in quarantine and is said to be “healthy and asymptomatic” and will be released tomorrow, February 28.
The first Filipino COVID-19 patient, on the other hand, is scheduled to be released this week, provided her test results remain negative.
The Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong vowed to continue to closely monitor the condition of all Filipino nationals and render all the necessary assistance.
China COVID-19 cases decline
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation in China is improving while the list of countries hit globally grows, with a first case in Latin America. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns the world is “simply not ready”’.
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.
There have been more than 82,100 infections and 2,800 deaths worldwide, according to the latest toll from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
The number of deaths in China – where the virus was first detected – has declined, with 29 more deaths reported on Thursday, the lowest daily figure in almost a month.
But the daily number of infections worldwide is higher than in China, the WHO has said.
More than 50 deaths have been reported outside mainland China since the start of the epidemic, out of more than 3,600 people infected, according to the Johns Hopkins Center.
Cases of the virus have appeared in nine new countries – Romania, Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Norway, Pakistan and Switzerland – bringing the number of countries hit to more than 45.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country considered the new coronavirus to be a pandemic Thursday, going a step beyond the WHO as he extended a travel ban on visitors from China.
Announcing a national emergency response plan to the contagion, Morrison said he was considering ”additional measures” for monitoring travelers arriving in the country.
“We’re effectively operating now on the basis that there is one – a pandemic,” Morrison said.
“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us.”
Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.
“’The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature,” Denmark’s public health agency said in a statement.
“The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative,” it said.
Now with 1,595 virus cases, South Korea has the highest number in the world outside China, where the disease first emerged in December and has since spread to dozens of countries.
Thursday’s increase of 334 was the biggest reported so far by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which gave a death toll of 12.
The number of infections in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, hits the 400 mark late on Wednesday, with 12 deaths.
Iran announces a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country’s deputy health minister.
In France two people have died, with more than a dozen infected, after the death of a 60-year old French person on Wednesday.
Latin America records its first case in a Brazilian who returned home from Italy.
Japan woman tests positive for virus after ‘recovery’
A woman in Japan who contracted the new coronavirus and was released from hospital after recovering has tested positive again, officials said Thursday.
The case is the first time a patient apparently cleared of the virus has subsequently tested positive for it, a local official in Osaka said.
The woman in her 40s was first confirmed as infected with the coronavirus on January 29.
She was working as a guide on a tour bus with tourists from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, in January. The driver of the bus was also diagnosed with the virus.
After being discharged from hospital she tested negative for the virus on February 6, although she still had a cough at the time.
She had no symptoms a week later, but returned to the doctor on February 21 complaining of a sore throat and chest pains.
On Wednesday, she tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time, officials said.
At least 186 people in Japan have so far contracted the virus, with three deaths in the country linked to the outbreak.
Aside from domestic cases, at least 705 people have been diagnosed with the virus on board a cruise ship that was quarantined off Japan, including passengers who were allowed to leave the boat after testing negative.
There have been four deaths linked to the virus from the ship.
”We will make sure that people who should be tested, get tested, and will avoid a worst-case scenario by preventing these people from developing symptoms and serious conditions,” Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said.
World ‘simply not ready’
Praising China’s drastic quarantine and containment measures, Bruce Aylward, leader of a joint WHO-China mission of experts, also warns other nations are “’simply not ready” to contain the outbreak.
”You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale… and it has to be done fast.”
But US President Donald Trump attempts to play down fears that the virus could worsen in America, where 60 cases have been reported, saying ”nothing’s inevitable.”
Trump said he was considering travel restrictions on Italy and South Korea over coronavirus fears, as he sought to reassure Americans worried about the epidemic.
But a short while after an upbeat press conference by the US president, health authorities said they had detected the first case of unknown origin in the country, signaling that the virus may be spreading within communities.
”I think that there’s a chance that it could get worse, a chance it could get fairly substantially worse, but nothing’s inevitable,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
He appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the response to the disease.
Trump’s messaging was a step back from a senior health official who a day earlier had urged Americans to be prepared to cancel mass gatherings and said schools and businesses should look at developing tele-working plans.
”It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nancy Messonnier said on Tuesday, citing the global spread of the virus that has now infected 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, mostly in China.
The State Department raised its travel advisory caution level for South Korea to the second-highest, now urging Americans to reconsider travelling there.
Gulf countries announce new measures to cut links with Iran — the major hotspot in the Middle East — to stop the spread.
Iranian authorities for their part announce domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected cases of the novel coronavirus.
Saudi Arabia announces it will temporarily suspend visas for pilgrims.
In Europe, countries neighboring Italy decide to keep their borders open despite the spread of the virus to Tuscany, Sicily and Liguria. But several governments encourage their nationals to postpone trips.
Sports, markets disrupted
The alpine skiing World Cup Finals scheduled for next month in Italy will take place without any fans on the slopes.
Italian golfers Edoardo Molinari and Lorenzo Gagli are quarantined in Muscat over fears they have the virus.
Ireland’s Six Nations rugby match against Italy planned for Dublin on March 7 is postponed to a later date.
Japan’s sumo governing body announces it will hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to go ahead with a major tournament in Osaka scheduled to start on March 8.
But organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics say preparations are ”continuing as planned”.
Several major companies say their sales will be hit by the epidemic, including British drinks group Diageo, the maker of Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka, French food giant Danone, and American air company United Airlines.
German airline Lufthansa and Air France both say they will freeze new hires.