Infections at MIA surging; economic revival imperiled
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2020 - 12:00am

At least 37 personnel at Manila International Airport and agencies operating there are down with COVID-19. Worsening contagion over the past week can force office shutdowns. Economic revival plans reliant on the country’s premier gateway can be disrupted.

A headcount of MIA sections listed 19 infectees of the dreaded coronavirus as of Monday. Eighteen more frontlines, mostly aviation police and Customs, are out of commission. The official count by MIA brass last week was 12. It did not include private service providers sickened in line of duty to transport people and cargo.

Infections are surging just when the largest MIA Terminal-3 is to reopen today, July 8, for international flights. The country is gearing up as Asia’s ship crewing hub to bolster global maritime trade and Filipino seafaring. MIA is crucial in that program (see separate item below). It is also the venue for departing and returning overseas workers, and people stranded far from home during the nationwide pandemic lockdown. Previously only Terminal-1 was functional, as the lockdown limited flights only to emergencies and essential travels.

Broken down, the 19 MIA infectees are from its Airport Police Dept. HQ, training and terminals, 5; Security and Emergency Services, 3; Intelligence and Investigation Division/Intelligence Assessment Management Division, 2; Airport Security Inspectorate Office, 2; Area Ground Operations Services Dept., 2; General Services Dept., 1; Medical Unit, 1; Engineering Group Terminal-3, 1; and unintelligible offices, 2.

The Aviation Security Group at MIA has sustained 52 contagions, taken care of by its mother Philippine National Police; all but three have recovered. The Bureau of Customs branch has suffered 43, with ten convalescing. There are four cases at Pagasa weather bureau branch. Plus one from the Civil Aeronautics Board, which swiftly shut down for disinfection last week and quarantined exposed staff. Eighteen baggage x-ray screeners of the Office of Transport Security also have been treated, cleared for return.

MIA has 1,800 personnel. Aside from the above, among two-dozen more agencies there are the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Bureaus of Immigration, Quarantine, Plant, and Animal Industry, and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. As well are airlines and service staffs: porters, ticket agents, receptionists, ground handlers, janitors, guards, utility men, secretaries, clerks, encoders, restaurant servers, shopkeepers, taxis, etc. An aircraft mechanic, an instructor, and a food caterer allegedly are under treatment. Three from a ground service firm have died.

All these are from various sources. “We validate one to two new infections a day,” one said last week.

Conscious of its cruciality, MIA management is bent on nonstop duty. Shutdown is out of the question. Strong advice is for regular office disinfection, virus testing, and internal contact tracing. Instant 14-day quarantine of exposed personnel with pay needs to be cleared with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

A Security Council is being proposed for reactivation. Purpose: coordinate the various critical activities of MIA, state agencies, airlines, and service firms for seamless operation. For one, the sudden shortage of test and swabbing kits of the Coast Guard and Red Cross could have been solved at one. As it happened, arriving flights from America had to be diverted to Cebu, where passengers were forced to hotel for days till test results were processed – right when the city was declared the outbreak epicenter. Flight cancellations can be averted too by making local government units report to it sudden targeted airport lockdowns. Private test labs and hotel self-quarantine billeting can be arranged for paying passengers, like in a one-stop shop.

The UN International Civil Aviation Organization requires such a Security Council. As an expanded Command Center under the MIA Emergency Manual, it can run even in the absence of top management. (The current GM batted for it as far back as Apr. 2018.) But funding needs approval from the top for, say, erection of quarantine facilities in the fringes of the MIA compound. Priorities also can be lined up, instead of a P700-million rehab of the departure baggage conveyor belt at Terminal-1.

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The Dept. of Foreign Affairs has innovated a special “green lane” for speedy crew change in the Philippines of international vessels. It is in response to the S-O-S of the UN International Maritime Organization for governments to facilitate the boarding and disembarkation of seafarers. Under the concept the Philippines will open its ports to foreign seamen who need to disembark after the maximum nine-month sea time, and for replacements to report on ship. Filipino seafarers, at 400,000 the most numerous of skilled ship-hands, naturally will be most benefited, since they would no longer have to catch flights abroad to get to work or home.

The IMO warned the other week that inability to change overworked crews was endangering their and vessels’ safety as national borders were locked down by pandemic. Ships were being detained worldwide by coast guard and maritime safety agencies. “We agree with IMO that the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and well-being of ship crew and safe operation of maritime trade,” said Foreign Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. As former Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN he immediately understood the gravity of IMO’s appeal. (Details at:

About 80,000 Filipino seafarers are stranded in ships worldwide, work contracts expired and unable to get home. Some are forced to reenlist at lower pay, or turning despondent reported in Gotcha, 26 June 2020 (see

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