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HK OFWs stuck in quarantine centers appeal for help

11 May 2020

By Virgilio B. Lumicao

An OWWA van takes OFWs to a resort for the start of their supposed 14-day quarantine 

 Overseas Filipino workers from Hong Kong who are being quarantined in various hotels and resorts outside Metro Manila are getting impatient as they are still unable to go home more than 14 days after their mandatory quarantine.

The returnees, mostly female domestic workers who either lost their jobs or have gone home for a vacation, are stuck in assigned lodges awaiting two swabbing sessions to check if they are clear of the coronavirus before they are certified safe to go.

The mandatory quarantines, including in their own barangays, have put the jobs of some vacationing workers in jeopardy. One vacationing worker has already been told by her Hong Kong employer that will be fired if she fails to return by the first week of June.
One group got too impatient that it sent out a distress call on Thursday to the Consulate through a friend who was in Hong Kong.

Consul General Raly Tejada said he had relayed the message to Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, who in turn contacted the workers.

“Yes, na-convey na sa OWWA iyon, kay Hans Cacdac mismo,” ConGen Raly replied to an online query.

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Last Thursday, OWWA appealed for understanding from OFWs who are still in the quarantine facilities.

“OWWA wishes you can go home to your families soon, but we have rules to follow to ensure the pain caused by [Covid-19] will not get into your homes,” it said in a statement.

OFWs are separated from other arriving passengers at Manila airport before being bused to their quarantine centers

Another Hong Kong-based OFW billeted in one of the 110 quarantine facilities monitored by OWWA said she and her fellow helpers had been in seclusion a few days longer than the prescribed quarantine period.

The worker said they are still being made to wait for the two swab tests, whose results will be known only two or three days after each test. That means another wait of about another week at least, if the second test is given promptly after the first result is out.

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“Kailangan Covid-negative result lang ang dalawang swab test saka kami puwedeng i-release at pauuwiin sa kanya-kanyang probinsya,” the OFW source said. 

She added that Coast Guard personnel keeping watch on them had informed them a team of medics would visit their quarantine site this week to conduct the tests.

Swabbing involves inserting a 6-inch-long swab into the left and right nasopharyngeal cavities between the nose and mouth for 15 seconds and rotating the swab several times to collect enough specimen. The swab is then sent to a laboratory for testing.
The delay seems to be due to the lack of medical staff to conduct the tests in the spread-out quarantine sites. In fact, Coast Guard personnel are the ones doing the daily temperature checks on the workers. 

The source said her fellow workers were excited at first, as the resort was spacious and each member of her group was given a big room. They were also given free meals.

They had to follow a set of strict rules like trainees in a boot camp, including a ban on interviews with media. The source said to fight boredom, they did zumba and Tik-Tok dancing and communicated in a chat group that they formed.

They were also allowed two hours of sunning and fresh air each day.
 
Not even a free stay in a fancy resort such as this could ease the homesickness of the quarantined OFWs

But, as days passed, some members of the batch have reportedly become irritable as they missed their families but still have to travel hundreds of kilometers north or south to the Visayas and Mindanao, where another 14-day quarantine awaits them.

The OFW said onward journeys home are being arranged by OWWA with the Coast Guard and Department of Transportation, as domestic air, land and marine transports are grounded.

As a result of their prolonged stay in the quarantine sites, OWWA’s expenses have mounted, leading it to appeal to Congress for Php2.5 billion in additional funding today.

Cacdac told a House committee OWWA has already spent more than Php381 million to support 26,737 OFWs displaced by the pandemic and needs the new fund for about 50,000 more returning home in the next few weeks.

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