About 180 locally stranded individuals take shelter in a multi-purpose hall of the Philippine Ports Authority in Manila after their ferry trips for the Visayas were cancelled.
Russell Palma
Still no going home for 127,000 stranded
Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - July 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines  — At least 127,000 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) in Metro Manila are still waiting to be sent home to the provinces following the moratorium on local repatriation, with the government requiring them to undergo swab testing for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.

Lorenzana said the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the provinces has been blamed on the repatriation of stranded travelers.

“The problem is that the first batches of LSIs who returned to the provinces were tagged as the source of infections. That’s why local government units are reluctant to receive them,” he said. “It is unfair for the LGUs to be overwhelmed because they do not have the quarantine facilities.”

Earlier, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government would ensure that the LSIs on the list were genuinely stranded travelers, adding that some had taken advantage of the government’s repatriation program.

Some provinces and regions have asked the national government to suspend local repatriations as their isolation and healthcare facilities were already full.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has approved a 14-day suspension of local repatriation in Negros Occidental, Iloilo and Eastern Visayas.

Some islands, including Camiguin and Basilan, have informed the national government that their quarantine facilities are being overwhelmed following the surge of returning LSIs to their provinces.

President Duterte earlier ordered Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to gather all stranded people and that the government would pay for their food and accommodation.

Thousands of LSIs have been camping outside Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the port of Manila in the hope that they would be able to return to their provinces.

Some are being housed at temporary shelters put up on the grounds of the Philippine Army in Pasay City.

The government is still ironing out protocols for the mass testing of LSIs following the surge in COVID-19 infections.

According to Lorenzana, the government has “exceeded expectations” in controlling the pandemic during the first phase of its plan.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) alerted its intelligence network for the entry of LSIs while waiting for their flights to the provinces.

MIAA general manager Ed Monreal said he instructed Romeo Labador, who heads the Security and Emergency Services, to coordinate with the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group in monitoring the movements of passengers at the NAIA for security purposes.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, who inspected NAIA Terminal 3 on Wednesday, asked NAIA officials to accommodate LSIs and allow them to seek shelter at the airport when their flights are cancelled.

“I asked airport authorities to give them food until such time they can board their aircraft bound for their respective provinces,” Tugade said.

He instructed Monreal to open the domestic VIP lounge and other spaces at the NAIA for the use of the LSIs.

Tugade said the Department of Transportation or the MIAA would shoulder the accommodation and food expenses of the passengers.

He also ordered airport officials to prepare for the resumption of international flights.

On Monday, President Duterte ordered Tugade to open to the public some of the restaurants at the NAIA terminals that are not in use to provide more space for passengers whose flights were cancelled.

Duterte said he was bothered by the photos and videos of stranded airline passengers sleeping in waiting sheds and sidewalks near the airport.

He directed Tugade to terminate the contracts of restaurants at the NAIA serving expensive food and taking advantage of the stranded travelers during a national health crisis.

2,379 returning OFWs infected

Over 2,000 repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have tested positive for COVID-19 after they underwent swab testing upon arrival in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said 2,379 OFWs were found to have contracted the virus with one death and 1,690 recoveries.

DOH data showed that as of June 30, a total of 92,967 OFWs have returned home after they were displaced by the pandemic. Of the number, 39,643 were land-based while 53,324 were seafarers.

A total of 84,729 OFWs have been released from quarantine facilities.

The DOH said only 28 cases of OFWs with the virus were recorded from March to April.

Vergeire attributed the increase in COVID-19 cases to the expanded realtime-polymerase chain reaction testing of returning OFWs.

She said the OFWs have to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine while waiting for the test results. If they turn out negative for the virus, the OFWs will be allowed to proceed to their provinces.

Vergeire said some repatriates may have to undergo another 14-day isolation, depending on the policy of local government units. Sheila Crisostomo, Christina Mendez, Rudy Santos

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