Gov’t to screen 127K LSIs in ‘Hatid’ program

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    NATIONAL Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez yesterday said 127,000 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) will be screened by the government to determine who among them are taking advantage of the “Hatid Tulong” program that aims to help individuals stranded by the lockdowns to return to their provinces.

    Galvez said the Task Force has received reports that some individual are taking advantage of the program to get a free ride even if they can afford to travel. Some are reportedly bringing their families to the provinces even if they were not really stranded in Metro Manila or other parts of the country due to the lockdown.

    Galvez said a new set of protocols to govern the transport of SLIs to their respective provinces would be released this Thursday. It would include provisions about conducting Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reactor (RT-PCR), the scheduling of travel and modes of transportation to be used.

    “For now, what we would do is to screen and cleanse the roster of LSIs; second the protocol on testing; third is the timing of the travel, procedure they would travel by air, by land or by sea,” Galvez said.

    He said the PCR test, once it becomes part of the new protocols, would be covered by the Philippine Health program. He said the country presently has one million available PCR test kits.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque confirmed that the moratorium on the dispatch of the LSI will only cover those going to and from Western Visayas (Region 6), Eastern Visayas (Region 8) and the Caraga region, including Cebu and Mactan.

    Roque said dispatch to other areas of the country would proceed and LSIs, for now, would only need to present health certificates and undergo quarantine once they arrive in their destinations. He said the conduct of PCR test is not yet mandatory pending the release of the new protocols.

    Presidential Management Staff assistant secretary and Hatid Tulong project officer in charge Joseph Encabo on Sunday said the government is proceeding with the dispatch of LSIs to other parts of the country on July 4 and 5.

    Encabo said more than 4,000 have registered for the July 4 to 5 trips for Mindanao and Northern Luzon. They expect some 9,000 people to register for the weekend’s scheduled trip through sea and land.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said a PCR or swab test is not yet a requirement for LSIs before they are allowed to return to their hometowns.

    Año issued the statement after reports quoted Joint Task COVID Shield chief Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar as saying that travelers bound for areas in the Visayas and Mindanao on board ships are required to present the results of their nasal swab tests.

    “There may have been miscommunication. They are not required to undergo PCR testing,” Año said of the LSIs. He added the IATF-MEID is currently discussing a proposal to require the LSIs to undergo the PCR “but this will be conducted in their point of destination (once already approved).

    “This mean they can travel but when they reach their destinations, they will be tested through PCR. But at present, our current protocol still stands. Those travelling to Zamboanga and Dumaguete, they will be allowed to travel… That’s already okay with the PCG (Philippine Coast Guard),” Año said.

    The current protocol requires LSIs to secure medical certificate and travel authority before they are allowed to return home. “And then upon arrival at the LGU (destination), they will undergo 14 days mandatory quarantine),” said Año.

    The PNP is in charge of the issuance of travel authority, which is issued to an applicant after presenting a medical certicate from the health office of the local government units where he or she is currently situated. The medical certificate proves the travel authority applicant is not a contact, suspect or probable or confirmed COVID-19 patient. The certificate also proves the applicant underwent a 14-day quarantine based on protocols of the health department. – With Victor Reyes