Senator Joel Villanueva on Thursday said the government can save P300 million a month with Cebu province’s “swab-upon-arrival” policy, a “sensible, but science-based” way of screening travelers for coronavirus.
He said the cash-strapped government saves money from this “low-cost but highly-effective” policy.
“If we adopt Cebu’s shortened quarantine period as national policy, the government will be saving almost P300 million a month,” said Villanueva, adding that this huge amount can be used as financial assistance to poor families.
He also said the government gets a huge discount.
“The shorter an OFW (overseas Filipino worker) stays in a hotel, the smaller the amount that is billed to the government.”
Full board of the 10-day quarantine of OFWs in hotels is shouldered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), which on any given day, billets 10,000 OFWs in 114 hotels.
OWWA has warned as early as March this year that it would use up its entire year’s P6.2 billion budget in five months to assist returning OFWs.
House Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera also lauded Cebu’s policy as “practical, logical and beneficial to the government, OFWs and ROFs.”
“The COVID-19 swab-upon-arrival policy strikes the right balance between ensuring COVID-19 response and protecting the welfare of returning Filipinos, especially OFWs,” Herrera said.
The Bagong Henerasyon party-list lawmaker said the policy effectively eases the emotional and financial burdens of OFWs and ROFs while it guarantees that arriving travelers are easily identified.
“Our OFWs have enough on their hands already, we should not put an unnecessary added burden on them by requiring them to undergo a facility-based quarantine while waiting for their swab test administered on the sixth day from their arrival,” Herrera said.
Villanueva said this is a kind of health checkpoint that spares OFWs from the hassles of quarantine.
This can save them time and money, both of which are better spent with and for their families.”
He said the vacationing OFWs get to spend more time with their families instead of spending two precious weeks in solitary confinement.
“If there’s an emergency in going home or they’re on vacation for only a few days, it’s a pity if they would spend their days only inside a room.”
A brainchild of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Cebu province’s policy, which tweaks but still complies with IATF rules, is spelled out in Provincial Ordinance No. 2021-04 and in an executive order issued by Garcia.
The Cebu system cuts to 7 days the quarantine period of returning Filipinos from abroad. They will be swabbed upon arrival and if after 7 days they will test negative again, they can proceed with their trip.
“At the very least, the Cebu formula needs to be tested in other cities. Success has to be replicated not repressed. We should encourage innovation, especially during this new normal, when conditions change rapidly,” Villanueva stated.
Herrera said she already explained to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and the Department of Health (DOH) the need to consider OFWs in terms of quarantine guidelines.
“The time of OFWs here in the country is just limited and to waste it on quarantine is something inhumane,” she said.
According to Herrera, the on-arrival swab test will enable early detection of COVID-19 cases, provide access to medical care quickly, and reduce the risk of leakage of imported cases into the community.
The party-list solon believes the Cebu ordinance does not run counter to the overall national objective of preventing the spread of COVID-19 as testing is done upon arrival and the results are known shortly after.
She said the ordinance clearly provides that those with negative results will be allowed to return to their homes where they will complete the remainder of their quarantine.
“OFWs and ROFs will then undergo another swab test on the seventh day in compliance with the directive of the IATF,” she pointed out.
Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Sonny Angara have expressed their support for Cebu’s swab-upon-arrival policy.
The policy is also backed by all seven congressmen of Cebu and the representative of party-list AKO Bisaya.
Herrera urged the IATF to probe the possibility of adopting the Cebu ordinance so it can be implemented on a national scale.
At the same time, the lady lawmaker questioned the policy of requiring children and seniors above 65 years old to present negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test results at airports.
“Bakit sila hinihingan ng RT-PCR test e sila nga ang nakakulong sa bahay?” she asked.