Koreans in Philippine city put up MERS hotline

Photo: Reuters

BAGUIO CITY-The summer capital's Korean community has put up a hotline network to ensure none of their visiting countrymen would enter the mountain resort with ailments, like the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which has killed at least 25 people and infected 169 others in South Korea.

In a meeting with Mayor Mauricio Domogan and the Cordillera region's health officials on Monday, six associations of South Koreans representing schools, businessmen and students discussed their hotline system, part of the community's MERS health protocols to assure city officials and residents that they can help contain infections under a worst case scenario for Baguio City.

Baguio hosts at least 5,000 Korean transients each year, many staying here for the weather and for the English language crash course offered by 20 schools in the city, said Councilor Elmer Datuin, who coordinated the meeting.


Several Korean students are also enrolled in private elementary and high schools and several colleges in Baguio while members of Korean missionary families have settled in the city, said Datuin, who chairs the council committee on tourism.

Baguio used to have the second largest visiting Korean population, next to Metro Manila, based on immigration records.

Recently, however, more Korean students have flocked to Cebu City and the Clark Special Economic Zone, which have direct flights to and from Seoul, Datuin said.

Hoya Mun, general manager of the United Korean Community Association in Northern Luzon (UKCANL), informed city officials that they expect Korean students to go to Baguio to enroll in language schools by July, the start of summer break in their home country.

The expected number of students would not be more than 600, said Han Young-gium, who represented the Baguio Korean Schools Association (BKSA).

According to the protocol drawn up by the local Korean community, the UKCANL would oversee the hotline and collate information transmitted by the Korean Church Association in Baguio, the Baguio Korean Business Association, the Baguio Korean Sports Community Association, the BKSA and the outreach group, Good Hands.

All these organisations are required to monitor the health condition of their members and of their visitors.

As soon as any of the organisations discover an ailing Korean, they would call the hotlines, provide all the medical information they could gather, and relay these to the city government.

Dr. Amelita Panganiban, Cordillera director of the Department of Health (DOH), told the Korean community representatives that the DOH could send an ambulance to bring a suspected MERS patient to a designated hospital in the city.

Equipped hospitals

Domogan said the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) is equipped to isolate and treat MERS cases.

But BGHMC officials said the facility could deal with only three patients at a time.

Mun informed Baguio officials that most MERS cases in South Korea were transmitted in health-care settings or confined in medical facilities, and there was no report of community transmission.

Government doctors here in a briefing for the Koreans said the corona virus strain was first discovered in Saudi Arabian patients in 2012.