Airlines prepare to resume Hong Kong, Macau flights
Philippine Airlines spokesperson Cielo Villaluna yesterday said there is a process involved to resume the flights to Hong Kong.
STAR/File
Airlines prepare to resume Hong Kong, Macau flights
Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Local airlines are preparing for the resumption of flights to transport stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) set to return to their jobs in Hong Kong and Macau after Manila lifted the travel ban on the Chinese territories following the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China.

Philippine Airlines spokesperson Cielo Villaluna yesterday said there is a process involved to resume the flights to Hong Kong.

Villaluna said PAL is working toward operationalizing flights to Hong Kong and Macau to enable stranded OFWs to return to their jobs.

Local carriers are still waiting for the directives from the government before they resume flights to Hong Kong and Macau.

Cebu Pacific (CEB) spokesperson Charo Logarta-Lagamon said they are on standby pending directives and guidelines.

“As of now, we’re still waiting for more detailed guidelines from the government, especially the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). But rest assured we will comply,” said AirAsia Philippines communications head David de Castro.

Sources said the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines are coordinating with the Bureau of Quarantine for lifting of the travel ban to Hong Kong and Macau.

PAL said the CAB and the Airline Operators Council (AOC) are discussing the resumption of operations to and from Hong Kong and Macau after the government imposed the travel ban that covered OFWs, other Filipino travelers and Filipino airline pilots and cabin crew.

Hong Kong officials have asked the Philippine government to lift the travel ban.

The government had earlier lifted the travel ban on Taiwan, enabling local carriers to resume flights to Taiwan destinations.

CEB resumed flights to Taiwan last Monday while PAL will resume flights to Taiwan cities starting today.

AirAsia will resume select flights to Taipei and Kaohsiung today with more flights from Manila, Clark, Cebu and Kalibo to gradually resume next week.

Local carriers said that passengers bound for Hong Kong and Macau could rebook their flights to other carriers while the airlines are discussing the mechanics for the resumption of flights.

The Hong Kong-bound OFWs are willing to sign the required waiver so they could immediately return to their jobs after the lifting of the travel ban in Chinese territories affected by COVID-19, local recruitment industry officials said yesterday.

Alfredo Palmiery of the Society of Hong Kong Recruiters Accredited to the Philippines (SHARP) said the government should just come out with a standard document containing the declaration that departing workers understand the risks involved in traveling to Hong Kong.

“So that it will be uniform, the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) should come out with a standard document regarding the additional requirement imposed by the government,” Palmiery said.

Palmiery said 10,000 OFWs who have been waiting for their flights to Hong Kong were relieved that they could now leave and work.

These OFWs include at least 3,000 newly hired workers and 7,000 vacationing workers who have been waiting for their flights to Hong Kong.

SHARP welcomed the decision of the government to lift the travel ban on Hong Kong.

Travel kits

According to Palmiery, SHARP will distribute to departing OFWs travel kits containing alcohol, a face mask, tissue, soap as well as a primer on protection against health risks and how to avoid being infected by COVID-19 in Hong Kong.

The Department of Foreign Affairs clarified that there is no travel ban on Filipinos returning from China and other Chinese special administrative regions (SARS) like Hong Kong and Macau, but returning Filipinos would be subjected to the 14-day quarantine.

“There is no travel ban on Filipino nationals and permanent residents returning from China and its SARs. However, returning travelers will be subjected to a 14-day self-quarantine upon their return,” the DFA said.

The DFA said Filipinos in various parts of China who wish to return to the Philippines could take commercial flights that are still available in certain areas.

The DFA confirmed the availability of Philippine-bound flights from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Guizhou province, Hong Kong, Kunming, Yunnan province, Macau, Shanghai and Xiamen.

Travelers should be guided by the travel bans imposed by the countries where the flights will transit.

Returning Filipinos are reminded of the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival, implemented by the Bureau of Quarantine per guidelines of the Department of Health (DOH).

The DFA urged Filipinos in China to coordinate with their respective embassies and consulates general.

They can also contact the WeChat hotlines of the DOH and DFA.

Recovery

Manila International Airport Authority general manager Eddie Monreal said yesterday that the government is hoping that the tourism and aviation industries would recover soon following the government’s decision to lift the travel ban on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

“So, we are now slowly recovering, because we have changes on the (travel recommendations), which the task force has been slowly implementing, and hopefully, I am also praying that it will recover, our tourism will recover soon,” he said.

The Philippines issued a temporary travel ban on China, Hong Kong and Macau on Feb. 3 and on Taiwan last week.

On recommendation of the DOH-led special task force on infectious diseases, the travel ban on Taipei was lifted last Feb. 14, while the ban on Hong Kong and Macau has been provisionally lifted, giving permission only to OFWs, Filipinos studying abroad, holders of permanent resident visas and diplomatic passports.

“I just run the airport and we will depend on how the passengers would come in and I’m sure there would be things that will be implemented. You know, it’s a lost opportunity, but at the end of the day, you know there is still time to recover and hopefully we will be able to recover soon,” Monreal said, when asked about the impact of the slowdown in travel on the economy.

Meanwhile, CEB is offering discounted airfares for destinations around the country, in line with the tourism sector’s push for domestic tourism amid the COVID-19 outbreak.?CEB said it is reducing its year-round low fares across more than 70 domestic destinations in support of government initiatives to spur domestic tourism to alleviate the impact of travel restrictions caused by the spread of the COVID-19.?“Starting Feb. 19, year-round low fares of Cebu Pacific will sell for as low as P88 (base fare) – even for travel within the next few days. Routes with reduced fares include those originating from Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro (Laguindingan), Davao, Iloilo and Zamboanga,” Cebu Pacific said.?Cebu Pacific said the reduced airfare is on top of promotional seat sales for key destinations the carrier has been running since late last month. -With Christina Mendez, Rudy Santos, Mayen Jaymalin, Pia Lee-Brago, Catherine Talavera

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