MANILA - The government has instituted remedial measures to facilitate the immediate processing of COVID-19 tests and results of repatriated overseas Filipino workers so that they need not stay long in quarantine facilities.
This, as government continued with a program to bring back migrant workers to their hometowns as thousands have lost overseas jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To begin with, we made a promise that OFWs should not stay in quarantine facilities awaiting results for more than 5 days,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on ANC’s Headstart.
To do this, Roque said that government has opened up other gateways to the country.
“Yesterday we were in Clark precisely because the OFWs are going to depart from Clark going to Cebu,” said Roque.
Employment agencies, particularly for the seafarers, may now choose laboratories that would process coronavirus tests of repatriates, he said.
“In other words, we have implemented a free market in PCR testing. No more playing favorites. Whoever can do it efficiently and the cheapest price were given the OFWs and their principals the liberty to choose,” he said.
Even the process now is different, Roque said. Prior arrangements may be done by the principals of OFWs - procedure that may be applicable to seafarers.
“If they have identified a laboratory ready to do the PCR test, OFWs can go straight to the hotels and lab technicians can either go to the hotel or they can even be allowed to go to the lab outside of the hotel but there would have to be some security measures taken,” he said.
For those who do not have prior arrangements they would still have to be swabbed in the airport, he said.
Other returning Filipinos on the other hand can choose which laboratory they want to go to.
“They will sign an undertaking for overseas Filipinos and if they don’t want to be swabbed in the airport then they can choose the laboratory, check in the hotel and make arrangements so that they can go to the laboratory,” he said.
He explained that the process is meant to ease the backlog.
“The reason is we’re expecting as [many] as 300,000 OFWs to come home in the next 3 months,” he said.
Returning OFWs eager to come home to their families have complained of the delay in the results of their COVID-19 tests, which kept them longer in quarantine facilities that are mostly in Metro Manila.
Roque expressed hopes that the increase in the number of laboratories will shorten the time that OFWs need to spend in quarantine facilities on top of the 14-day mandatory quarantine.
“In fact in Clark, because we implemented this strategy of, among others, swabbing them and utilizing labs outside of Metro Manila, they were able to leave the quarantine facility within 72 hours and we want to do this for every OFWs,” he said.
The DOH has 54 licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories in the Philippines.
“We’re still aggressively pursuing the establishment of more laboratories because we don’t have enough. it’s not just the lab capacity, it’s actual testing that are being done. We need to improve the capacity but also have to make sure that they all have supplies so that they can maximize their capacity,” he said.
More than 31,000 OFWs have returned to their hometowns after being stuck in quarantine facilities in Metro Manila for weeks following their repatriation flights.
The government expedited the return of some 25,000 OFWs to their respective provinces from May 25 to 31, according to OWWA. Some 6,700 others were transported from June 1 to 5.