Philippines suspends inbound commercial flights

Richmond Mercurio - The Philippine Star
Philippines suspends inbound commercial flights
A passenger sits alone at the NAIA Terminal 1, hoping to be accommodated after the government suspended anew the remaining international flights.
Rudy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The government has suspended inbound commercial international flights to the country for one week to help further mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) issued yesterday a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) suspending inbound international passenger and commercial flights to the Philippines.

The suspension commenced at 8 a.m. yesterday and will last for a week.

Outbound international commercial flights, with coordination and approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, will be allowed.

In addition, international flights wishing to land or depart must request for an exemption with the CAAP Operations Center at least 36 hours before the scheduled departure from the airport of origin.

CAAP said the decision was made following a request from National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.

“This decision is meant to decongest our quarantine facilities to protect our people by preventing the further spread of COVID-19 and also ensure that our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are well taken care of when they arrive from abroad. As of today, there are already approximately 20,000 OFWs undergoing mandatory quarantine in Metro Manila,” Galvez said.

“The new flight restriction is only temporary and will be implemented for one week to give the government the opportunity to decongest the quarantine facilities in Metro Manila,” he said.

Nine international airports in the country are covered by the NOTAM on the suspension of inbound international flights.

These are the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), Davao International Airport, Clark International Airport, Iloilo International Airport, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Zamboanga International Airport, Kalibo International Airport, Laoag International Airport and Puerto Princesa International Airport.

CAAP said cargo flights, medical flights, utility flights, maintenance and sweeper flights for foreign nationals being repatriated back to their respective countries are exempted from the suspension and will remain unhampered.

“The move is deemed necessary in order to ensure that our country will not experience a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the increasing number of international passenger arrivals. It should be noted that most of our repatriated citizens are coming from countries which experienced significant COVID-19 outbreak,” the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said in a statement.

According to the agency, the government has accommodated around 20,000 repatriates who are quarantined in Metro Manila, with an arrival rate of 2,000 per day.

It said the temporary suspension of international passenger arrivals would enable the government to decongest the processing of this number to a more manageable level, given the need to observe strict health protocols and that existing quarantine facilities are at full capacity.

“It will also allow the government’s frontline agencies that are tasked to contain the spread of COVID-19 to upgrade their testing and screening protocols, and expand the existing quarantine and treatment facilities and ensure a more comfortable quarantine arrangement for our repatriated kababayans,” the DOTr said.

As a result of the suspension order, flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) announced yesterday the cancellation of special passenger flights to Manila from the US from May 4 to May 8.

“The Philippine government has announced the closure of international arrival facilities at all Philippine airports from May 3 at 8 a.m. for a one-week period,” PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said.

“As a result, we have had to cancel our special passenger flights from the USA bound for Manila, departing on the days from May 4 up to May 8,” she said.

Passengers previously booked to any of the canceled flights will be rebooked to another special flight operating after the airport closure period, subject to government approval, Villaluna added.

Two of the last flights out of NAIA Terminal 1 yesterday, right after the suspension was announced, were Hong Kong Air and Gulf Air which left NAIA Terminal 1 at 5:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., respectively.

Gulf Air had previously landed at NAIA past 1:00 p.m yesterday, carrying stranded OFWs from Bahrain before taking off an hour later. – With Rudy Santos, Alexis Romero



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