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Saving the OFWs: Airlift under way

An eight-member government team left Saturday night for Wuhan, China to assist in repatriating Filipinos from the epicenter of the 2019-ncoronavirus, leaving the Department of Health thus far in failing to secure a quarantine site for them north of Manila.

READ: PH delays repatriation plan

Saving the OFWs: Airlift under way

The three-member Health Emergency Response Team, composed of Rowell Casaclang, Abdul Rahman Pacasum, and  Richard delos Santos from the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, will be joined by a five-member medical team from the Department of Health. 

They were on a Royal Air flight arranged by the DFA after receiving clearance from Chinese authorities, according to officials.

Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Y. Arriola said the team “is already experienced in repatriation operations, and has been briefed and prepared for this particular assignment.” 

Simulation exercise 

She said the team underwent simulation exercise at Clark International Airport a day before the flight to ensure fast and efficient operation.

On the flight back to Clark, the DFA team will assist the repatriates to complete immigration documents, and other requirements.

On Sunday, upon arrival in Clark, the team will ensure orderly disembarkation and transfer to the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City, Tarlac which will be their home for the 14-day mandatory quarantine period.

The crew who manned the flight will likewise be subjected to the 14-day quarantine period.

But while repatriation preparations were being made in Manila, Capas Vice Mayor Butch Rodriguez told Balitanghail Weekend, beamed nationwide, the Department of Health failed to assure local officials the use of the New Clark City as an nCoV quarantine facility for Filipinos returning from China’s Hubei province posed no danger to the people of their town.

Local officials insisted they were not consulted over the move and they were “shocked” when it was announced publicly that the quarantine facility would be within their town.

Meanwhile, a workers group on Saturday slammed Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan for opposing the quarantine of repatriated Filipinos from Hubei to Clark facilities in Tarlac.

 Trade Union Congress of the Philippines spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said they were disappointed at the behavior of Catacutan for his “unpatriotic stance and for getting in the way and obstructing a national health emergency concern for overseas Filipino workers stranded in Hubei.”

Tanjusay said: “We join the thousands of Filipinos in social media in bashing Catacutan for his unpatriotic stance. 

This is not the time for the mayor to oppose and act like a spoiled king and question the prerogative of the national government to turn the facilities located in Capas town quarantine our OFWs from Hubei.”

Limited contact

Catacutan expressed opposition despite the assurance from the Department of Health and government inter-agency health committee that the community in Tarlac would be safe from possible transmission of the virus.

DOH officials said there would be limited contact with the community if the repatriated Filipinos stayed within the New Clark City property.

In a statement, Catacutan said the DOH did not “in any way” involve the local government of Capas when it decided to use the New Clark City complex as a quarantine zone.

“We acknowledge that the Bases Conversion and Development Authority [BCDA] has full jurisdiction over NCC, but I, as the mayor of Capas, appeal in behalf of all Capaseños to our dear President Rodrigo Duterte and DOH Secretary Francisco Duque to consider another place or facility as isolation area,” he said.

Tanjusay said rather than helping and supporting government effort to save distressed OFWs, Catacutan acted as if he owned the municipality of Capas.

“The Department of the Interior and Local Government [DILG] should slap Catacutan with a warning for obstructing a national health emergency prerogative to save our OFWs and their rescuers away from possible exposure to the virus outbreak,” he said.

Repatriation in full swing

Several countries have aleady repatriated their nationals from Wuhan City and Hubei province following a declaration from the World Health Organization that the outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern.

The Bureau of Quarantine said it would coordinate the disinfection of the OFWs’ luggage and the airplane bringing back the Filipinos while the Central Health Development Central Luzon would be in charge of disinfecting the vehicles used for transport.

In related developments:

• The United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Health and Prevention announced two new cases of novel coronavirus infections in the country­—Filipino and a Chinese citizen.

According to an Emirates News Agency Report, the MoHAP said the patients, now under observation, brought the total number of nCoV cases in the country to seven.

They were identified through the continuous periodic screening conducted in accordance with World Health Organization standards for those with symptoms of the new coronavirus.

• Government agents at Ninoy Aquino International Airport blocked the entry of 36 Chinese nationals who came from Macau, one of the countries covered by the travel ban imposed as part of the government’s proactive measure to prevent the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

Bureau of Immigration port operations division chief Grifton Medina said his men barred the entry of the foreigners at NAIA Terminal 1 upon their arrival aboard a Philippine Airlines flight from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Denied entry

“They were denied entry after our officers discovered upon inspection they were traveling as a group and that they have been to Macau last Feb. 1,” Medina said.

Under the travel ban, foreigners will not be allowed to enter the Philippines if within the past 14 days they have traveled either to China, Macau and Hong Kong.

Medina said all 36 passengers were initially turned over to the Bureau of Quarantine for inspection and later excluded and booked on the first available flight to Phnom Penh.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente reiterated his appeal to airlines and shipping to “do their share in implementing the travel ban and prevent the entry of foreigners from the areas of concern.” 

• The on-site repatriation team of DFA handed out relief goods to Filipinos in Wuhan City who were stranded in their homes due to government restrictions limiting travel movement in order to contain the 2019 nCoV ARD.

Mark Anthony Geguera and Sanny Darren Bejarin of the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai coordinated with volunteer members of the Filipino community in the relief operations.

The DFA on-site repatriation team entered ground zero of the nCoV outbreak yesterday to firm up the arrangements for the planned repatriation activities with Chinese authorities.

Ban coverage

All airlines and shipping companies have been instructed not to board passengers covered by the ban, and according to Morente, the bureau is studying the possibility of imposing fines against violators. 

The agency is now requiring both foreign and Filipino passengers from abroad to completely fill out and submit their arrival cards while undergoing immigration arrival formalities by BI officers.

Morente earlier instructed all immigration duty supervisors in the different airports to strictly enforce the new policy so that the bureau can ably assist health and police authorities in tracking down passengers who have recently been to the areas of concern.

Previously, only foreign passengers arriving at the airports are required to fill out said arrival cards while Filipinos are obliged to fill out embarkation cards when they leave the country.

In another development, officials of the Immigration Regulation Division said they were now strictly screening applications for extension of stay of foreign tourists to check if any of them have a history of travel to China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days from their arrival.

Morente said a visa extension applicant covered by the restriction shall be turned over to the Bureau of Quarantine for medical assessment.         

“We have developed a series of checking, double-checking, even triple checking to ensure that we assist our health authorities in monitoring the travelers. We do what we can to help prevent the spread of this virus,” said Morente.

DFA team in Wuhan

In an earlier statement, DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said, “We already have our DFA team inside Wuhan City and they are there working on the ground preparing for the repatriation of our OFWs. They’re taking great personal risk for the sake of our kababayans and I salute them for that.”

The team hired a vehicle to visit neighborhoods with identified Filipino residents in travel-restricted Wuhan City and handed out grocery items and basic necessities.

A total 56 persons, including seven spouses and four infants have confirmed their intent to join the repatriation flight.

Saving the OFWs: Airlift under way
WORRIED WAIT. Filipino repatriates at the Tianhe International Airport are in an anxious state of readiness while waiting for their chartered flight back home, a nearly three-hour run from Wuhan to Clark, to be accompanied by an eight-man government team from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Health which flew out Saturday night. DFA
The DFA initiated the call to repatriate the workers on Jan. 28, 2020, which was facilitated by the Philippine Embassy in Beijing and the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai, the foreign service post with jurisdiction over Wuhan and Hubei.

READ: Duterte okays P2.25 billion for workers’ masks, gear

READ: DFA suspends visa issuances to Chinese

READ: DOH to big hospitals: You can’t turn away suspected nCoV patients

READ: US, Japan nationals lead escape from Wuhan; PH readies planes

Topics: Department of Health , Health Emergency Response Team , novel coronavirus
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