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'Business as usual' for OFWs in Korea amid MERS outbreak

A woman wears a mask as a precaution against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as she passes by a South Korean national flag in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 11, 2015. South Korea's central bank lowered its key interest rate to a historic low on Thursday, responding to a slump in exports and the prospect that the outbreak of the deadly MERS virus could slow the economy. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

SEOUL - It's business as usual for most of overseas Filipino workers in South Korea as the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - corona virus (MERS-CoV) reaches its first month this week.

Malou Espinola, president of the Filipino EPS Workers Association (FEWA), said the group has not received any reports of Filipino workers stopping work because of the outbreak which has claimed 16 lives as of Monday.

Five new MERS cases were likewise reported by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, raising the number of those infected to 150. More than 3,000 people remained quarantined in more than 30 hospitals shut down by the government since May 20.

"Most Filipinos here work for the manufacturing industry so the effect so far has been minimal because factories did not stop operations," Espinola said.

Most of those who stopped operations are "hagwons" or English language academies, but Espinola pointed out OFWs teaching in hagwons "account for less than 1 percent of the entire working Filipino population here." 

As for those working in factories, they are also usually provided accommodation within the premises of the companies they are working for. "So basically, the advise for them is to just avoid going out," she said.

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According to the Philippine Embassy here, there are more than 52,000 Filipinos living and working in South Korea, 44.2 percent of whom, or about 23,000, work at manufacturing industry or other factories. 

A total of 16,000 others are Filipinas married to Koreans, while the rest either work as entertainers, professionals or household service workers, religious workers and students.

Remittances from South Korea to the Philippines amounted to $43.014 million as of the first quarter, down 6.87 percent from $46.189 million last year, data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Raul Hernandez repeated reminders to Filipinos in Korea to take precautionary measures against MERS-CoV.

He said the diplomatic community was assured by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they will be informed should "any of their nationals is confirmed infected with MERS, subject to the agreement of the person concerned."

Hernandez also relayed that the Korean government has opened up a toll free MERS hotline 109 where foreign nationals can get information about the virus, the medical facilities they can visit and the necessary treatment.

No foreigner has been reported to have been infected by the deadly virus.

The World Health Organization said last Sunday it expects more cases of MERS-CoV in South Korea from the "complex" outbreak.

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