June 06, 2020 – A popular movie star-turned politician has blasted government’s hasty repatriation program, sending home to the provinces thousands of overseas workers who were not screened for coronavirus causing serious concerns among the local population.
Richard Gomez, a former matinee idol turned athlete and now a mayor of Ormoc City in Leyte province, said a worker who returned from Saudi Arabia has tested positive for the virulent virus causing severe respiratory disease after staying for weeks in the capital Manila.
“I’m not happy with what happened,” Gomez said in a Facebook live on Friday, “It could have been prevented if strict protocols have been followed. Sana lang sa mga national agencies please, kung magpapadala kayo ng tao sa probinsya, paki-test ho muna bago pasakayin ng bus, bago pasakayin ng eroplano.”
Gomez said the 46-year old male worker arrived in Tacloban City last May 27 and is the first confirmed coronavirus case in Ormoc, Leyte. He tested in Manila when he arrived from the Middle East.
Gomez has questioned the government protocols regarding the return of overseas workers to their hometowns, saying that national agencies should be coordinating with local government units regarding transportation.
“Hindi ko alam ano mahirap intindihin sa salitang coordination,” the mayor said, “Kung infected, doon muna sa mga origin nila. Huwag niyo na munang paalisin yung mga may infection at pumunta sa probinsya.”
Because of the infection, Gomez said he is going to enforce a lockdown once again in the city.
“People coming from other COVID-positive areas, ‘di muna pwede pumasok sa Ormoc. Pinagbabawalan muna ang mga taga-Ormoc to go out of the city. We don’t want them to visit other municipalities,” he added.
A total of 1,067 repatriates have been infected with the coronavirus. One has died, while 14 have recovered.
However, the Department of Health (DOH) brought up on Friday that while those who have recovered from the virus could still test positive, the possibility of infection is reduced.
Anna Ong-Lim, President of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, said that the RT-PCR test is effective in detecting the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 even after recovery. But she cited studies that the potency of the virus eventually waned.
“After day 9, yung nakukuhang positive test sa mga gumaling ay di na mabuhay sa laboratoryo, hindi na nakakahawa,” Ong-Lim said in the DOH briefing.
The government has started to open more international gateways for the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in order to decongest Metro Manila airports.
Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementor of the government’s pandemic response, reported that the Clark International Airport began receiving overseas workers on Friday.
“Kahapon, may bumaba sa Clark at oobserbahan ang turnaorund time. Target na makauwi agad by Monday,” Galvez said in a Laging Handa briefing on Saturday.
He said that they are regulating the arrival of repatriated OFWs to 1,500 per day. They would be led to a one-stop shop in the airport, tested for coronavirus, and wait for their results before being flown to their hometowns.
Galvez said they now try to limit the waiting time to five days, after OFWs complained being stuck in quarantine facilities for more than a month.
“Later pag nag-improve, maging three days or four days,” Galvez added. (Katrina Elaine Alba/MM)
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