COVID-positive OFWs flee quarantine – PCG

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star
COVID-positive OFWs flee quarantine â PCG
The PCG is leaving it to the Bureau of Quarantine to confirm and announce the number of OFWs who tested positive.
Edd Gumban, file

MANILA, Philippines — An unknown number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), some of whom tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), have escaped from hotels that are being used as quarantine facilities in Metro Manila.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo yesterday confirmed there were OFWs who fled from quarantine.

“I do not have the details as to how many OFWs escaped from the quarantine facilities, but the swab test results of some of them later showed that they were positive for COVID-19,” Balilo said.

The PCG is leaving it to the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) to confirm and announce the number of OFWs who tested positive.

The PCG has reportedly sent tracker teams to locate the whereabouts of these OFWs who skipped quarantine, and coordinated with the local authorities in the areas where the workers reside.

Balilo said the OFWs who escaped from quarantine facilities face possible sanctions for violating the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

He explained that some of those who escaped did not even complete their 14-day quarantine period, while others grew tired of waiting for their swab test results conducted by the PCG and the BOQ. The specimens were brought to the laboratory run by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

The hotels, temporarily converted into quarantine facilities, are secured by the PCG but the “house parents” are personnel of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

“We have been warning them not to leave the facility. We understand that they are restless and want to return home and be with their families. Some would stay at the facility for 15 days and others even 25 days but we just have to test (and) process so that they would not be carriers of the COVID-19 disease and not spread the disease to their family members,” Balilo said.

The PCG and BOQ had swab tested around 23,000 repatriated OFWs but have, so far, only received results for 7,000 tests. However, both agencies may be able to quickly catch up on its backlog as the PRC recently increased its capability to processing around 1,000 specimens a day.

Balilo also said Commodore Genito Basilio, PCG deputy chief of Coast Guard staff for intelligence, “is investigating the circumstances surrounding the escape of OFWs. He already has findings and is just validating them. It will be corrective review of the process to avert the repeat of other OFWs escaping from the quarantine facilities.”

Meanwhile, the PCG is advising OFWs who have completed their quarantine, received Red Cross certificates and quarantine clearances that showed they are negative for COVID-19, to get in touch with 2Go shipping lines which would ferry them back to their provinces.

“The 7,000 OFWs who have been given Red Cross certificate and quarantine clearances should contact 2Go because it is offering a ‘first come, first serve’ basis for a ride back to their provinces. Their ship normally could accommodate 1,900, but because they have to observe physical distancing the capacity number of passengers on board would be limited to only around 800,” Balilo said.

Since yesterday, 2Go ships have began transporting OFWs who completed their quarantine and tested negative. The schedule of trips, and name and contact numbers of 2Go personnel are posted on the PCG’s Facebook account.

Pay PhilHealth premiums

Meanwhile, a group of OFWs yesterday urged the government to pay for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) premiums of household service workers (HSWs) deployed overseas.

Aniceto Bertiz III, ACTS-OFW Coalition of Organizations chair, said with their measly earnings HSWs could not afford to pay the monthly premium.

“The government should sponsor the PhilHealth contributions of our HSWs abroad, many of whom are earning no more than the P20,000 (or $400) monthly minimum pay set by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration,” he said in a statement.

Bertiz noted that in the Middle East, there are Filipino HSWs still receiving half of the prescribed minimum pay due to illegal deductions made by dishonest employers or crooked placement agencies.

He further noted that the majority of Filipino HSWs overseas come from severely disadvantaged households, and a significant number of them are single parents.

“They are already facing harsh financial difficulties and simply cannot afford to contribute on their own to PhilHealth,” Bertiz pointed out.

According to him, the government has been sponsoring the PhilHealth premiums of underprivileged segments of the population for years and should do the same for HSWs.

Under the 2020 General Appropriations Act, for instance, Bertiz said the government has set aside a total of P71.3 billion to subsidize the National Health Insurance Program under PhilHealth.

The amount is intended to pay for the PhilHealth contributions of indigents as identified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development; senior citizens, unemployed persons with disability, and financially incapable point-of-service patients.

“Many of our migrant workers are also wary of paying their PhilHealth premiums due to unchecked widespread fraud, including the non-remittance and the illegal diversion of contributions by unscrupulous recruitment agencies,” Bertiz added.

Before departure for abroad, all OFWs are required, under law, to register with PhilHealth. President Duterte, however, recently ordered the suspension of the compulsory collection of contributions from all categories of migrant Filipino workers. Mayen Jaymalin




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