MANILA, Philippines - Returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the Middle East may soon be required to present a health clearance in the face of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus scare.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the Department of Health (DOH) would coordinate with various embassies and consulates in MERS-affected countries for its implementation.
“What we are going to ask is for the embassy to come out with a list of Filipinos who were tested for MERS and not to allow them to return to the country until they get results indicating they are negative from the virus,” he said.
He said the requirement is within the law because the threat of MERS involves the whole country, adding that the disease could easily spread if there is no strict surveillance.
Ona said the country remains MERS-free, noting that at least 190 passengers of an Etihad Airways flight that arrived on April 15 tested negative for the disease.
“A total of 252 Etihad passengers have already been tested... We are still awaiting the results on the others,” he said.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) advised Filipino workers bound for the Middle East to take necessary precautions against MERS.
“While there is no travel restriction or deployment ban to Middle East countries relative to the MERS, we deem it proper and timely to issue an advisory on precautionary measures so that our OFWs can be guided on the proper steps they need to take to protect themselves,” the POEA said.
POEA chief Hans Cacdac also advised returning workers from MERS-affected countries to monitor their health for 14 days and contact the Bureau of Quarantine if they develop symptoms.
He directed recruitment agencies to conduct special briefings on precautionary measures against MERS for departing OFWs.
Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz directed the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to include MERS in the pre-departure orientation information of OFWs.
Baldoz said that OWWA should craft a similar advisory to licensed recruitment agencies, in-house centers, associations and non-government organizations accredited by the OWWA to provide orientation to all departing OFWs.
OWWA chief Carmelita Dimzon said they would post information about MERS in the OWWA website.
As this developed, Customs officials assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals started wearing surgical masks and gloves as a precaution against MERS.
NAIA district collector Edgar Macabeo told The STAR the Bureau of Customs (BOC) had taken steps to protect its personnel from MERS. – With Rudy Santos, Gerry Lee Gorit