Coast Guard assures strict quarantine protocols as more Filipino-manned ships expected to dock in Manila

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29)— The Philippine Coast Guard assured strict implementation of COVID-19 quarantine protocols will remain in place as more Filipino-manned ships are expected to dock in Manila's port in the next few days.

PCG spokesperson commodore Armand Balilo told CNN Philippines that a total of 21 ships were scheduled to arrive in Manila in April alone, with more expected to arrive next month.

"We have been told that more are coming by May. These are Filipino, the purpose of course is to disembark the Filipino crew from the ships," Balilo said in an interview with The Source.

"More ships will be coming in the next days, and we are preparing for that... Doble ingat tayo doon sa ating mga ginagawa. We are aware na merong nangyari sa kanilang port of calls. Pinagbubuti natin 'yung mga health protocols na pinapairal," he added.

[Translation: We'll be more cautious with our protocols. We are aware that there are things happening in different port of calls. We'll be make we're doing our health protocols right.]

Ten ships are now anchored in Manila, according to Balilo. He estimated that over 2,000 Filipinos are currently onboard the said vessels and will be placed under quarantine once given clearance to disembark.

What happens next?

Balilo explained that once a ship arrives in Manila, it will first be inspected by officials from the bureaus of quarantine, customs, and immigration. He added the quarantine period will still be practiced inside the vessel.

Once given clearance to disembark, the Filipino crew members would have to undergo another 14-day mandatory quarantine on land, where they will be transferred to designated isolation facilities pursuant to the COVID-19 task force directive.

Balilo noted that doctors and other medical personnel will be ready to assist returning seafarers, adding that medical technologists will be also deployed to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests for the crew.

READ: 2Go to waive ₱35-M fee for use of ships as quarantine facilities

All cruise ships with Filipino crew allowed to dock

The Coast Guard earlier confirmed that the Ruby Princess, a coronavirus-hit cruise ship previously docked in Australia with a hundred Filipino crew on board, is already destined for Manila.

Netizens raised worries over the move, as the ship, previously quarantined at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, has reported 21 coronavirus deaths and around 600 positive cases.

Balilo, however, stressed that all cruise ships with Filipino crew members will be allowed to dock or anchor in the country.

"The procedure here right now is of course all cruise ships carrying Filipinos will be allowed to anchor or dock here in Manila Bay depending on the condition of the passengers of those ships," the spokesman noted. "The treatment should be, kung merong may sakit, kailangan dalhin sa hospital (if someone is sick, he or she will be brought to the hospital)."

"I'm sure merong takot ang ilang kababayan natin because of the stories doon sa Australia... But we have to attend to our OFW, mga repatriates natin, mga seafarers."

[Translation: I'm sure some Filipinos are scared because of the stories there in Australia. But we have to attend to our OFW, our repatriates, our seafarers.]

Operators of the Ruby Princess are currently facing two "high-profile investigations", Taylor Auerbach, reporter of Seven News Australia, said in a separate interview with CNN Philippines.

Australian media earlier reported that officials are looking into possible "criminal negligence" on the part of the Ruby Princess management and other involved agencies when they allowed passengers to disembark in Sydney, despite the fact that others on board showed COVID-19 symptoms.

"This is one of the biggest health disasters in the history of Australia. There's no doubt about that," Auerbach said.

"We knew worldwide that cruise ships were a problem. Two of the most high-profile cruise ships to face coronavirus disasters were both Princess cruise ships. In Australia, the Army was already involved in the coronavirus fight. We knew how serious the coronavirus crisis was," he added.

The Philippines, on the other hand, saw another rise in COVID-19 cases, with 7,958 positive patients reported as of the Health Department's latest record. Of this number, 530 have died, while 975 recovered.