After weeks in isolation, quarantined seafarers plead for COVID-19 test results
Kristine Joy Patag ( - May 21, 2020 - 1:32pm

MANILA, Philippines — Seafarers isolated in a quarantine hotel in Pasay City are pleading for the government to release the results of their COVID-19 test and allow them to go home to their families.

Donato Albayalde and his fellow crewmembers of cruise ship Queen Mary 2 arrived in the Philippines on April 25 and were immediately subjected to a rapid test for COVID-19.

More than a week later, they were swabbed for another COVID-19 test but 26 days have passed and they are still waiting for the results.

“We still do not have the result and certificate [from Red Cross]. How can we go home?” Albayalde told in a message.

In April, the Coast Guard said that returning OFWs housed in ferries converted into quarantine ships would only go through a 14-day quarantine.

"Once the repatriates finish the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, they will be issued with clearances duly signed by DOH and BOQ, and will be coordinated with their respective licensed manning agencies for necessary transportation," the Coast Guard said in an April 6 press release.

Guidelines have changed since the seafarers started coming home, with an initial plan to count their days at sea as part of thei quarantine period since scrapped. 

Albayalde said that there are 13 other shipmates who have been staying at Queensland Pasay. Other members of the Queen Mary 2 crew are in a separate hotel in Sta. Mesa in Quezon City. 

All have yet to receive the results of their COVID-19 test and secure a certification from the Red Cross.

“Hirap po talaga. Mentally tortured na po kami, kung ano ano na iniisip namin (It’s so difficult. We feel mentally tortured, we're having all kinds of thoughts),” he also said.

RELATED: For cruise ship crew waiting to come home, it's a bitter-'suite' life

In a video also sent to media, Albayalde said they found out that other migrant workers who were tested after they were have already been allowed to leave their isolation facilities.

“We too have families waiting for us,” he said in Filipino.

“Not only our families are affected, our own health is at risk too. We arrived in the Philippines with sound minds, but with what is happening, we may get sick here and lose our minds,” Albayalde said.

He added that they have been saddled with worries on when they can go to their families in the long days spent in isolation.

Albayalde said in a separate message that they just stay in their rooms—which have access to cable television and Wi-Fi—while they continue to wait for word on when they can leave the quarantine hotel.

RELATED: After weeks of waiting, Filipino crew of cruise ships finally start government-supervised quarantine

Long weeks of waiting

As of Thursday, May 21, the Philippine Coast Guard has released 14,669 quarantine clearances for OFWs who tested negative on COVID-19.

The PCG said that the list of names is a mix of land-based and sea-based migrant workers. “Several hundreds” of seafarers were allowed to disembark this week, the Coast Guard said.

PCG has yet to release data on how many of the OFWs who have been granted certificates have already left their isolation facilities.

OFWs stuck in quarantine hotels have complained of their prolonged isolation while waiting for their COVID-19 test results.

Adm. Joel Garcia, PCG commandant, said on May 1 that they received orders from the National Task Force on COVID-19 to coordinate with the Philippine Red Cross on the use of their RT-PCR machines.

Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction testing is considered the “gold standard” for COVID-19 testing.

In a hearing at the Senate on Tuesday, data presented by COVID-19 testing czar Vince Dizon showed that 45% of tests were done in PCR laboratories.

The Palace on Tuesday said they will look into their concerns and ordered Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to submit an inventory of OFWs in quarantine facilities and updates on their COVID-19 tests.

The Coast Guard meanwhile reported last weekend that eight OFWs waiting for results of their COVID-19 test escaped their isolation facilities—without waiting for their certificates—to go to their families.

One of them tested positive for COVID-19, while the rest tested negative. Authorities are locating the eight who will face complaints for violating quarantine protocols.

National Task Force on COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez warned Wednesday that the 42,000 OFWs arriving in the Philippines in the coming weeks may overwhelm the country’s isolation facilities.

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