Cebu’s swab-upon-arrival policy gains more support

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FIVE senators and a partylist representative have expressed support for Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia’s swab-upon-arrival policy for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs).

In a statement, Sen. Joel Villanueva described Cebu’s policy as “a sensible, but science-based” way of screening travelers for coronavirus and “low-cost but highly effective.”

“It is a kind of health checkpoint that spares OFWs of the hassles of quarantine. It saves them time and money, both of which are better spent with and for their families,” Villanueva said.

The cash-strapped government saves money too, he said.

“The shorter an OFW stays in a hotel, the smaller the amount that is billed to the government,” he said.

Villanueva pointed out that full board of the 10-day quarantine of OFWs in accredited hotels is shouldered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa), which on any given day, billets 10,000 OFWs in 114 hotels.

Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Resolution 114, issued on May 6, 2021, requires all arriving travelers in the Philippines to undergo 14-day quarantine on arrival, the first 10 days to be observed in a quarantine facility, with the remainder to be completed under home quarantine in their respective local government units (LGU) of destination.

Under the IATF resolution, Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing is done only on the seventh day, with the traveler completing the 10-day facility-based quarantine even if he tests negative.

Huge savings

The Owwa has warned as early as March this year that it will use up in five months its entire year’s P6.2 billion budget to assist returning OFWs.

“If we adopt Cebu’s shortened quarantine period as national policy, the government will be saving almost P300 million a month. Let’s just think of how many families could receive help out of this amount,” Villanueva said in a mix of English and Tagalog.

“The government gets a huge discount and the vacationing OFWs get to spend more time with their families instead of spending two precious weeks in solitary confinement,” Villanueva said.

Aside from Villanueva, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. have also expressed support for Cebu’s swab-upon-arrival policy.

Garcia’s Executive Order 17 issued on March 30, 2021 and strengthened by the passage of Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 on May 14, 2021, requires OFWs and ROFs to be swab tested for Covid-19 on arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA). They stay at a quarantine hotel only to await the results. On testing negative, they may leave the hotel. No other requirement shall be imposed on them by the LGU of destination.

On May 20, Garcia issued a memorandum adding the requirement of “facility or home quarantine for the remaining balance of the 14 days to be monitored by Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams” for Cebuano OFWs and ROFs released from quarantine hotels after testing negative. Also added was another swab test on Day 7 from arrival to be administered by the LGU of residence in Cebu.

In the same memo, Garcia said that in the case of non-Cebu residents or transiting OFWs and ROFs allowed to leave for their LGU of destination outside Cebu after testing negative in the first swab, they shall be tested a second time on Day 7 by their LGU of destination.

“The Cebu system cuts to seven days the quarantine period of returning Filipinos from abroad,” said Villanueva in his statement.

“At the very least, the Cebu formula needs to be tested in other cities. Success has to be replicated not repressed. We should encourage innovation, especially during this new normal, when conditions change rapidly,” Villanueva said.

Another official who also threw in her support was House Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera.

In a statement, Herrera said she considers the current policy of placing OFWs and ROFs under quarantine for several days even though their days in the country are limited “inhumane.”

“The Covid-19 swab-upon-arrival policy strikes the right balance between ensuring Covid-19 response and protecting the welfare of returning Filipinos, especially OFWs,” Herrera said.

“The time of OFWs here in the country is just limited and to waste it on quarantine is something inhumane,” Herrera added.

Ako Bisaya Partylist Rep. Sonny Lagon and the seven Cebu representatives in Congress also support the governor’s policy.

Malacañang has ordered the diversion of international flights from the MCIA to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from May 29 to June 5, which it extended to June 12 in a new memo, in a bid to have the IATF’s travel and testing protocols implemented in Cebu. (JKV, CTL)

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