26,590 OFWs repatriated during COVID-19 pandemic, says defense chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 29) – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported on Thursday that a total of 26,590 overseas Filipino workers have been brought back to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the meeting of Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on Thursday night, Lorenzana told President Rodrigo Duterte that they have successfully met their initial target to repatriate at least 24,000 OFWs .

He also assured that the previous problem of sending the OFWs back to their hometowns has been resolved, with the help of other government agencies under the IATF-EID such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Interior and Local Government, and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Over the past few weeks, many OFWs who are quarantined in different hotels in Metro Manila complained about the government’s slow response in bringing them back to their respective home provinces.

Last Sunday, Duterte ordered to rush the release of COVID-19 test results of the 24,000 OFWs stuck in quarantine facilities and expedite the process of reuniting them with their families.

Lorenzana also told the President that around 3,597 repatriated OFWs were already sent to their respective provinces, while some 3,972 others are scheduled to be sent home within this week.

The defense chief added that there are 7,569 OFWs who arrived in the country Wednesday night.

Lorenzana cited Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s projection that around 40,000 OFWs are scheduled to return to the country until the end of June.

Ang target po natin ay hindi magtatagal ng apat na araw yung OFW dito at makakauwi na sila,” said Lorenzana.

[Translation: Our target is the OFW will stay here up to four days before they can go home.]

If Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade's proposal to open other international airports in the country (aside from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City) will be granted, Lorenzana said they can directly send the returning OFWs and seafarers to the aviation hubs near their hometowns.

The mandated reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for returning overseas workers will also be done in these airports, Lorenzana added.

The OFWs will also undergo three-day quarantine in areas near their hometowns, while waiting for their COVID-19 test results. Workers found to be positive of the virus will remain in the quarantine area, Lorenzana stated.

“At least, malapit na sila sa mga pamilya nila at hindi na sila malulungkot,” he said.

[Translation: At least, they will be near their families and they will not be heartbroken.]

Tugade mentioned in the IATF-EID meeting that since most parts of the country will be under general community quarantine starting June 1, the DOTR is keen to open other international airports.

He mentioned Clark International Airport in Pampanga, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, and Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City as the main aviation gateways that will resume operations under the GCQ setting.

Tugade said there are COVID-19 test laboratories near these airports that will be completed anytime and can be used in testing returning OFWs.

“While we put up the testing laboratories, there are already accredited hospitals which can do the testing in Clark and Cebu,” said Tugade.

The Transportation chief recommended that other airports will soon be opened in the coming weeks, such as Zamboanga International Airport, Bacolod-Silay International Airport, Iloilo International Airport, and Panglao International Airport in Bohol.

Duterte placed Metro Manila, Regions 2, 3, and 4-A, Davao City, and the provinces of Pangasinan and Albay under general community quarantine effective June 1.

Other areas in the country will be under modified general community quarantine, Duterte added in his speech.