“The Department of Tourism has been doing everything within its resources to ease the congestion in the different regions by facilitating the movement of foreign tourists stranded in the different islands of the country,” Puyat said in a statement.
STAR/ File
Sweeper flights rescue stranded tourists
Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Special so-called sweeper flights rescued over 10,000 tourists, mostly foreigners stranded in the country’s tourist spots when the government imposed the enhanced community quarantine to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In a text message, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said her department has assisted 10,829 tourists from various resorts nationwide as of noon yesterday.

She said that 2,500 tourists remain stranded, with Region 7 recording the highest number at 899, followed by Region 11 with 540 and Region 6 with 291 tourists.

“The Department of Tourism has been doing everything within its resources to ease the congestion in the different regions by facilitating the movement of foreign tourists stranded in the different islands of the country,” Puyat said in a statement.

The bulk of stranded tourists were rescued through sweeper flights that transported them from various destinations to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and Clark International Airport, in joint efforts with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, AirAsia and Air Swift.

The DOT said five sweeper flights carried stranded tourists out of Siargao to Clark Airport last Saturday and Sunday.

It added that more sweeper flights are scheduled with at least four flying out of Boracay Island over the weekend, and two more scheduled for today.

Three sweeper flights are also set to leave from Davao and Puerto Princesa today.

Meanwhile, DOT regional offices are facilitating the transport of travelers by land in Luzon and by sea with inter-island vessels, like the Philippine Coast Guard boats used to sail tourists from the islands of Bohol, Siquijor and Negros to Cebu.

Puyat said foreign embassies this week would organize more sweeper flights to help the remaining stranded foreign tourists to exit the country.

Among those that confirmed charter rescue flights were the Czech embassy, Vietnam embassy, as well the embassies of France, Poland and Germany.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he recently met with European Union Charges de Affairs Thomas Wiersing who informed him that more EU tourists remain stranded in the country.

“I just met with EU CDA Thomas Wiersing who delivered the grave news that foreign tourists are sleeping in open air, without shelter or roof over their heads, because their hotels kick them out once their bookings end, even if they can’t book domestic flights out,” Locsin said.

“It is regrettable that these incidents are being reported even after we released our implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for hotels during the community quarantine,” Puyat said.

Under the IRR, hotels with foreign guests who had existing bookings or reservations as of March 17, or who are in transit to leave the country are allowed to operate.

“Rest assured, we will be helping all stranded tourists find temporary accommodation until they are able to find outgoing flights back to their countries,” she added.

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines decided to suspend temporarily their international flights due to enhanced community quarantine and the travel ban imposed by other foreign countries on the Philippines. ?PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said that most of their flights have minimal passenger load. – With Ghio Ong, Rudy Santos

BERNADETTE ROMULO-PUYAT
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