DFA cautions Filipinos in Saudi Arabia on coronavirus threat

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday advised Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, particularly those camped out at tent shelters outside the Philippine embassy in Riyadh, to take precautionary health measures amid the spread of the coronavirus, a disease that has most affected the Arab country with 39 known cases of contraction and 25 reported deaths.

No Filipino has so far been reported to have been stricken with the disease, but the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh issued an advisory for Philippine nationals to take preventive measures and protect themselves from the disease.

"There are no reports of any Filipino in Saudi Arabia being infected with the new virus which, according to news reports, caused the death of several Saudis," said DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.

"Our citizens in Saudi Arabia should follow the advice of the Saudi Health Ministry and other relevant authorities. The embassy has also issued an advisory detailing the symptoms of the disease and the preventive measures that our kababayans in Saudi Arabia can take," he said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Experts have said the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) stemmed from the same viral family as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, an outbreak which spread around the world in 2003, killing some 775 people, according to a Reuters report.

The new virus is known to have spread to France, Britain and Germany, with a total 50 reported cases and 30 deaths. The Philippines' Department of Health has also issued a local warning here.

"If they feel any of the disease's symptoms, they should not take any chances. We advise them to go to a doctor as soon as possible," said Hernandez, addressing Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

The DFA expressed special concern for undocumented Filipino workers and children still camping outside the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate in Jeddah amid the crackdown against illegals there.

"Our Embassy and consulate are providing basic sanitation requirements such as portable toilets, water, garbage bags and diapers. Those who fall ill are also given immediate medical attention," said Hernandez.

"But we still urge the campers to move into the temporary shelters. The condition at the campsites, despite our best effort, is still conducive to the spread of disease because of the heat and congestion. Please do not put yourselves and your children at risk," he added.

Government has prepared temporary shelters for the undocumented Filipinos pending processing of their repatriation. The Filipinos have been camped outside the Philippine missions since April.

Per DFA figures, some 32 distressed Filipinos remain outside the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh while 149 are still outside the consulate in Jeddah. Some 168 have meanwhile agreed to stay at the air-conditioned shelters offered by the Consulate.

Some 149 Filipinos have been repatriated from Jeddah since last month, amid government's efforts to bring home undocumented Filipinos fearful of arrest because of the Saudi crackdown.

The DFA continues to process other Filipinos in time for the July 3 deadline the Saudi government had imposed for illegal workers to either return to their home countries or correct their status.

"Efforts are also continuing to process the passports and travel documents of undocumented Filipinos to facilitate their regularization or repatriation before the July 03 deadline imposed by the Saudi government," said Hernandez.


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