MANILA — The inter-agency task force leading the Philippines' pandemic response said on Friday it has allowed "special commercial flights" to bring home Filipinos who are stuck abroad due to a travel ban that aims to prevent the spread of a more contagious COVID-19 variant in the country.
The IATF earlier banned at least until July 15 travelers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, and Oman to keep out the Delta COVID-19 variant. While government exempts repatriation efforts from the ban, a lack of flights has hampered the return of Filipinos from these countries.
The IATF in a meeting on Thursday "authorized the conduct of special commercial flights to bring home stranded Filipinos in Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and other countries where there are travel restrictions imposed," said task force and Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque.
"These special commercial flights are, however, subject to guidelines, such as the creation of a Special Working Group (SWG) to determine the implementing protocols for the special commercial flights, in coordination with the concerned airlines," he said in a statement.
"The Department of Health, the Bureau of Quarantine, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Transportation and its One-Stop Shop, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Tourism shall form part of the SWG."
The special commercial flights, which must have prior approval from the SWG, "shall likewise be exclusive for Filipinos," Roque said.
"Also, the Guidelines on the implementation of exemptions for the Philippine government and non-Philippine government repatriation shall be followed," he added.
The Philippines has detected among inbound travelers 19 cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant that originated from India, where it unleashed a catastrophic surge in coronavirus infections.
With some 1.4 million coronavirus infections, the Philippines has the second highest COVID-19 tally in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
The government aims to vaccinate 58 to 70 million of the 109 million population to contain the outbreak and safely reopen the economy.