ILOILO CITY — Government agencies in Western Visayas will indefinitely suspend special trips to bring home stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) after several of them who returned Wednesday tested positive for coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.
The suspension of special trips dampens hopes of OFWs who have been waiting for more than a month now to finally go back to their home provinces in the region after arriving in the country.
Lawyer Gaudioso Geduspan, deputy spokesperson of the Western Visayas Regional Interagency Task Force on COVID-19 and officer-in-charge of the Land Transportation Office, said the special trips to bring home OFWs will be suspended until measures aimed at ensuring that only OFWs who are not infected will be transported are in place.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas told a press conference on Thursday that nine returning OFWs – seven from Iloilo City and two from Guimaras Island – tested positive for the virus.
The seven were among the 226 OFWs on board a 2GO ship that docked in Bacolod and Iloilo cities.
These included 51 from Negros Occidental and Bacolod City, and 175 from Panay and Guimaras islands.
The task force earlier said the OFWs underwent rapid testing for COVID-19 and had undergone a 14-day quarantine.
Only those who were negative for the disease were supposed to be allowed to board the vessel.
The OFWs from Iloilo and Guimaras, who were quarantined at a hotel in Iloilo City, underwent rapid testing.
Those who tested positive for the new coronavirus will be subjected to a real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction test, which takes longer but is more reliable.
Treñas said the hotel housing 35 OFWs from Iloilo and Guimaras has been locked down.
OFWs have appealed to government agencies to have them tested and to bring them to their home provinces.
Lea Aguirre, acting head of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Western Visayas, said they do not have the total number of OFWs who remained stranded in Manila and Cebu as their repatriation was facilitated by their manning agencies.
“We are asking for a little more waiting and patience,” she said during a press conference of the task force on Tuesday.
But stranded OFWs in Cebu said they have been waiting for too long to go home.
“We want to be with our families and we have been pleading with OWWA to arrange our trip,” said Karisa Cachuela, an OFW from Binggawan town in Iloilo.
Cachuela arrived in Cebu from Hong Kong on March 23 but was not able to go home to Iloilo due to the suspension of travel.
She is among 24 OFWs from Western Visayas who are staying at a shelter house of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
They were earlier quarantined at a hotel for 14 days upon their arrival.
Cachuela said they were each given P5,400 in food assistance by OWWA and food packs by DSWD but she said these were not enough.
It was only on April 29 that she and other OFWs were tested.
“The OWWA said they do not know when we can finally go home,” she told the INQUIRER.
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