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Test delays still plague many travelers arriving in Manila

04 June 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

More Filipinos are due to return home over the next few days, as NAIA opens to more international flights

Filipinos who have recently arrived, or are due to fly home to the Philippines in the next few days, are up in arms over the lack of clear guidelines about the mandatory quarantine they face on arrival in Manila, and reports of long delays in travelers’ swab test results.

The travelers bombarded the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Facebook page with angry comments or inquiries after the Manila airport announced it would accept more international flights beginning Jun 1.

For those who are due to fly to Manila, the biggest concern is when they could finally reach their homes, given the well-publicized delays in the release of Covid-19 test results.
Philippine health officials have promised a wait of only between three to five days, but many who are already under quarantine in Metro Manila have reported being stuck in their hotels for days, with no idea of when their test results would come out.

At least one angrily disclosed that no test kits were available when he arrived at NAIA on Jun 1, and he was still waiting for when he could have the swab test, two days after checking into his hotel for quarantine.

One female OFW who did not say where she was deployed  said she was a domestic helper who left her job after her employer’s mother tested positive for the coronavirus disease while his sibling died of the illness. She was concerned that she would be made to pay for her swab test and quarantine.

Theresa Valdez Pascual, apparently a non-OFW, commented that if there is no test kit, then the authorities should just let them test in the provinces.

“Kung walang testing kit, sa uuwiang bayan na lang magpa-test at pauwiin na sana mga non-OFW para di na gagastos pa sa hotel... Pahirap ang ginagawa sa mga non-OFW,” she added.
 Many recent arrivals are complaining about the lack of test kits at the airport

Another OFW, Joy Martinez, said she had been under quarantine in a hotel in Pasay City for 36 days, and had already tested negative, but she was yet to be picked up by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration so she could fly home to Iloilo.

“Sobrang nakakainis na talaga. Lagi kong kinakausap sarili ko na kelangan pa ng patience, makakauwi din ako at sabi ko pa sa sarili ko baka wala pang scheduled flight pa-Iloilo kaya siguro di pa nila ako sinusundo dito. Pero nalulungkot na po ako.”

Their frustrations about the delayed test results was worsened by a report in a Manila daily that the Philippine Coast Guard, which is conducting swabbing at the airport, had stopped the procedure since Jun 1 as test kits ran out.

This means a longer wait for thousands of OFWs and other overseas Filipinos who will be arriving in waves from various work locations in other parts of the globe.

One Manila daily reported that around 100,000 OFWs stranded in various jobsites, mostly in the Middle East, are expected to be repatriated in the coming days.

This was just days after 24,000 OFWs stuck in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila for up to two months after testing negative for the coronavirus, were taken home on mercy trips over a week-long period.  

Philippine Airlines resumed its international flights between Manila and Singapore today, Jun 3. On Monday, the carrier restored its Manila to San Francisco flights as it struggles to return to normal operations after a four-month stoppage due to travel restrictions that were imposed in the wake of the pandemic.

PAL flights between Manila and Hong Kong, however, will resume on Jun 19 and only every Friday, according to the carrier’s published flight schedule for June.

On its domestic network, however, PAL cancelled and moved back some flights it had earlier scheduled for key provincial destinations, attributing this to “fine-tuning of local government entry restrictions and requirements.”

It’s been widely reported in local media that local government units have resisted the resumption of domestic flights, citing the possibility of contamination, given the high rate of infection in Metro Manila and other key areas in the country.

The carrier’s flight to Cebu City earlier scheduled for Jun 3 has now been moved to Jun 5 and the flight to Davao City earlier scheduled for Jun 5 has been rescheduled for Jun 8.

Budget carrier Cebu Pacific, meanwhile, announced it is resuming domestic flights from Jun 4 until Sunday to General Santos City, Naga City and Cagayan de Oro City.

“As this is a developing situation, flight schedules may change, subject to approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force, the local government units and other concerned government agencies,” CebuPac said in an announcement.

Those who posted comments on the NAIA page mostly said they are due to arrive in Manila this month from various places such as the United States, Middle East, and other parts of Asia.

The page administrators patiently explained the protocols imposed by the quarantine authorities who comprise the Inter-Agency Task Force overseeing the anti-Covid-19 tests for all passengers arriving at the airport from various points abroad.

One OFW asked whether she will have to pay for the quarantine facility and testing costs, to which a certain TK Alvarez replied: “Kung OFW ka po, Ate, shouldered ng OWWA at PhilHealth ang expenses mo sa hotel facility hanggang sa makauwi ka. Kung non-ofw naman po, galing po lahat sa bulsa ang gastos.”

“What a joke! No test kit and forcing the people to wait in the designated hotel? Ashame! (sic),” blasted a certain Frank Leone, who suggested requiring inbound Filipinos to have a Covid test in their places of origin and have their negative result stamped by their embassy then undergo rapid testing  upon arrival.

A certain Juan Maria asked whether pregnant women also need to undergo mandatory quarantine, while another asked whether senior citizens can be spared the long wait for results.

The webpage admin replied that arriving passengers are required to undergo mandatory swab testing. Senior, persons with disability, pregnant women and children should seek assistance from Coast Guard personnel for special treatment upon arrival, he said.

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