SOME 1,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) caught off-guard by the temporary travel ban imposed by Kuwait and Qatar due to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic are set to be brought home, according to the Department of Labor and Employment.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said a total of 743 and 300 OFWs are set to be repatriated after they were prevented entry to Kuwait and Qatar after the travel ban was imposed last March 7 and 9, respectively.
“Around 1,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait and Qatar were affected by the temporary ban of flights to and from the Philippines,” said Bello.
“Those who were en route after the announcement of the ban were barred entry. We are now considering flying them back immediately,” he added.
Bello said they are inclined to wait for the seven-day ban in Kuwait to end while the Qatar government has agreed to temporarily provide meals and accommodation for the OFWs while they are awaiting repatriation.
With more countries expected to impose travel restrictions due to the virus, Bello said he has requested for an additional budget of P1.5 billion from the Office of the President to assist the OFWs.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said 444 Filipinos from the coronavirus-hit Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California will be repatriated today, Monday.
The DFA said they were able to secure the necessary health and other clearances from US authorities to pave the way for the repatriation.
“The MV Grand Princess repatriatees boarded the plane back to the Philippines which departed from San Francisco at around 9 p.m., March 14, Pacific Time. They were all screened by the US Department of Health and Human Services prior to boarding,” the DFA said.
DFA Spokesman Eduardo Menez said the 444 did not exhibit any symptoms associated with the virus when they were screened by US health authorities.
The repatriatees – 438 crew members and six passengers – will land at the Philippine Air Force hangar at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga.
From there, they will board buses that will take them to the Athlete’s Village of the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.
Thirteen Filipinos who had earlier tested positive for the virus have been taken to US medical facilities for treatment.
The DFA said 91 other Filipino crew members decided to remain onboard to help maintain the cruise ship.
The Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia yesterday said it will start implementing reduced work hours starting today due to the threat posed by the virus.
The new schedule is as follows: 9 a.m. to 3p.m. on Monday, closed on Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 3p.m. on Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday.
There are about 865,121 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, the largest concentration in the Middle East. Overall, the region hosts more than 2.2 million Filipinos. – With Ashzel Hachero