Gov’t mulls removing testing requirement for returning OFWs from low prevalence areas

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 17) — The government is studying if it could allow returning overseas Filipino workers from countries with a low prevalence of coronavirus disease to go back promptly to their provinces without undergoing a swab test, provided they complete a two-week quarantine, a Department of Health official said on Saturday.

“Kung talagang iyong (If) testing is not really accessible, we could just quarantine them for 14 days, and after 14 days they could go back to their provinces,” DOH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing on Saturday.

This statement follows the decision of the Philippine Red Cross earlier this week to stop processing the PhilHealth-funded real-time reverse transcription-polymerase or RT-PCR tests of returning OFWs, people arriving in airports and seaports, those in mega swabbing facilities, and frontline health and government workers.

Red Cross said this is due to the government insurance firm’s inability to settle its debt, amounting to over ₱930 million. PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran said Friday they will pay their unpaid balances to the non-profit organization, as he pointed out some questionable provisions of the existing deal for COVID-19 tests.

"We want to pay, only that we have to clear some legal issues affecting the memorandum of agreement that was entered into earlier between the management of PhilHealth and the Philippine Red Cross," Gierran said, pointing to some questions on procurement.

READ: PhilHealth to pay Red Cross debt, but flags irregularities in contract for COVID-19 tests 

In the meantime, specimens will be sent to other government laboratories in Metro Manila and its nearby provinces while PhilHealth and Red Cross are resolving their issues, Vergeire said.

“This is a temporary measure ... so the operations will not be hampered,” she added.