COVID-19 task force allows outbound flights during Luzon quarantine

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
COVID-19 task force allows outbound flights during Luzon quarantine
This undated image shows the Ninoy Aquino International Airport runway.
The STAR / File

OFWs, foreigners, balikbayans to be allowed to fly out

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:41 a.m., March 18) — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases lifted the 72-hour deadline for those leaving for abroad that would have seen airports across Luzon close down, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said on Tuesday evening.

"No more closures," Puyat told Philstar.com when asked about the window for flights. According to earlier guidelines, airports across Luzon would close down as the last international flights leave.

This was later confirmed by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles at a press briefing late Tuesday night.

Airlines in the Philippines have already canceled their domestic flights until the enhanced quarantine ends at midnight on April 13.

The 72-hour window began 12 a.m. of March 17 after President Rodrigo Duterte placed all of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine to restrict public movement amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The inter-agency task force on the government's efforts against COVID-19, however, recommended doing away with the 72-hour countdown to allow passengers with scheduled trips to leave the country.

The IATF last week recommended a community quarantine in Metro Manila and raising the alert over the novel coronavirus to Code Red Sublevel 2.

The recommendations in the resolution that the IATF passed needed the President Rodrigo Duterte's approval, which he gave.

Nograles, who announced the measure—one of many—said that the president had already approved the IATF's recommendations.

READ: Metro Manila quarantined for 30 days as alarm heightens over COVID-19

"The Department of Tourism welcomes the lifting by the IATF of the 72-hour window for individuals departing overseas," it said in a statement.

Only outgoing international flights allowed

According to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, overseas Filipino workers, balikbayans and foreign nationals leaving for abroad through any of the ports in Luzon shall be allowed to leave the Philippines at any time during the enhanced community quarantine period, provided that they only travel to the airport within 24 hours of the date and time of their departure.

Outgoing passengers will be asked to provide proof of their departure such as an e-ticket or flight itinerary.

They will be allowed to be accompanied by only one person when traveling to the airport, who shall likewise carry a copy of the e-ticket or itinerary.

Nograles said that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration may provide transportation services to OFWs intending to leave for abroad.

"This provision shall not be interpreted to allow outbound travel by Filipinos to jurisdictions where travel restrictions are in place," the cabinet secretary said in a press briefer late Tuesday.

The  Manila International Airport Authority reiterated this in an announcement on Wednesday and said that Filipino tourists may not fly out of the country.

Inbound international passengers, on the other hand, are allowed entry, subject to strict immigration and quarantine protocols.

The Philippines previously issued travel ban on foreign travelers from China, Hong Kong, Macau and the South Korean province of North Gyeongsang.

The Department of Foreign Affairs early this week said that the government lifted the travel ban to mainland China to allow the OFWs there to return to the country. The lifting excludes Hubei province, where the ground zero of COVID-19 is located.

Meanwhile, Nograles and Puyat said “no hotels and similar establishments shall be allowed to operate during the Luzon quarantine.

However, hotels accommodating the following guests will be exempted from the closure:

  1. Guests who have existing booking accommodations for foreigners as of March 17, 2020
  2. Guests who have existing long-term leases;
  3. Employees from exempted establishments under the provisions of the March 16, 2020 memorandum from the Executive Secretary and subsequent modifications and clarifications

The IATF said that “no new booking accommodations shall be shall be permitted” by these hotels and establishments.

Hotel operations shall also be limited to the provision of basic lodging to guests.

Meanwhile, the DOT said travelers who are concerned they will be stranded may contact them for assistance by sending a message to the department's official Facebook page until their scheduled flights.

Puyat earlier said the DOT and tourism stakeholders as well as the IATF “will not allow any tourists to be stranded here in the Philippines.”

The concerned agencies are assisting both international and domestic tourist who were affected by the community quarantine in terms of recovery flights, transportation, meals and accommodation.

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