Carlito Galvez Jr.
Retired military general Carlito Galvez Jr. is the presidential adviser on the peace process. He was appointed as chief implementer of the government's response to the COVID-19 health crisis in March 2020.
OPAPP/Released, file
Galvez: No room to quarantine 42,000 OFWs
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — With around 42,000 overseas Filipino workers returning home in the next two months, the government has expressed concern over how to accommodate the OFWs for the mandatory 14-day quarantine intended to curb the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.

National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 chief implementer and presidential adviser on the peace process Carlito Galvez Jr. presented this challenge during a meeting with President Duterte and Cabinet officials on Tuesday.

Galvez said there are 27,000 OFWs staying in government-designated quarantine centers and hotels, many of them wanting to go home to their families.

Galvez’s concerns became part of Duterte’s televised address to the nation on Tuesday night.

“At this time, Gen. (Delfin) Lorenzana is coordinating with the maritime industry and some agencies as we are trying to solve our problems with regard to our OFWs,” Galvez said.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has been trying to increase the number of quarantine centers to augment the local hospitals which have reached full capacity.

With the increasing OFW arrivals, Galvez said the problem might bring out more issues related to the readiness of the country’s healthcare system as the government is trying to ease restrictions related to community lockdowns.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said there are efforts to speed up the release of clearances for OFWs stranded in Manila.

At least 13,000 OFWs have been cleared and allowed to go home, Roque said, citing statistics submitted during the meeting.

“I’m hoping the 40,000 will soon be out of quarantine. I don’t think it’s possible in the near future because when we had 20 or so thousands of them, it also took a long time,” Roque said.

Since there are more laboratories permitted to process COVID-19 specimens, Roque is hoping the blood samples will be farmed out.

465 positive

To decongest the quarantine centers, Lorenzana directed the Department of Transportation, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to work on the immediate release and return to their home provinces of OFWs who tested negative for COVID-19.

Based on NTF’s records, Galvez said around 30,000 OFWs underwent swab tests for COVID.

Of the 22,432 tests conducted by the Philippine Red Cross, 465 were positive.

“If we did not subject them to PCR testing, these 465 carriers would have ushered in the so-called second wave,” Galvez said.

The situation wave would have been worse, especially if they were not monitored and were allowed to go home as soon as they arrived, he added.

Galvez said the government would have difficulty tracking and preventing these OFWs from infecting other people, especially in localities that do not have quarantine facilities and PCR-testing capability.

He said it has been mandatory to test all returning OFWs to prevent importation of the virus.

Those who will be allowed to return to their home provinces and cities need to present certifications or clearances from the Bureau of Quarantine.

Duterte said the government’s measures have prevented further increase of cases in various areas of the country.

He stressed the need for everyone to follow health protocols such as the wearing of face masks and observance of social distancing and coughing protocol.

‘Uwian na’

The OWWA has launched an online portal to speed up the discharge of returning OFWs from different quarantine facilities.

OWWA chief Hans Cacdac said the “Uwian Na” is intended to organize the list of returning OFWs who have undergone swabbing and tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.

“It’s a registration procedure for those with negative RT-PCR test and are still in OWWA-supervised quarantine facilities so they can immediately go home,” Cacdac said.

He said the online portal would allow the OWWA to book flights for OFWs.

Data from OWWA showed some 8,500 repatriated OFWs are staying in OWWA-run facilities.

Of the figure, 7,500 have completed quarantine but could not go home due to delay in the release of their test results.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said all returning OFWs are required to undergo quarantine for 14 days and swab tests.

Vergeire said many OFWs could not go home even after completing the quarantine period due to delay in the release of their laboratory results from the Philippine Red Cross.

She said all tests for OFWs have been done by the Red Cross, which encountered problems in encoding of the results.

Additional encoders have been deployed in the Red Cross to fast-track the return of OFWs to their hometowns and cities.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) deployed more policemen in quarantine centers after an OFW escaped from a facility in Pasay City.

Police will ensure the OFWs remain at the facilities until they complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The additional personnel would protect and prevent OFWs from leaving the facility.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that a 49-year-old OFW escaped from a quarantine facility. He was later found at his home in Quezon City and was immediately transferred to a hospital.

Eleazar said they are coordinating with other concerned government agencies in case other OFWs would escape. Jose Rodel Clapano, Mayen Jaymalin, Emmanuel Tupas

CARLITO GALVEZ JR. OFWS
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