By Roy Mabasa and Joseph Almer Pedrajas
A repatriation team from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is now in Wuhan City, the ground zero of the 2019 novel coronavirus, to begin the process of bringing home Filipinos from Hubei Province beginning this weekend.
The DFA team, led by Mark Anthony Geguera and Sanny Darren Bejarin of the Philippine Consulate in Shanghai, arrived in Wuhan on Thursday and immediately met with members of the Filipino community in Wuhan as well as with the Foreign Affairs Office in Hubei Province to discuss the details of the repatriation.
“Today we already have our DFA team inside Wuhan City for the repatriation of our OFWs. They are on the ground and they’re taking the risk,” DFA Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Brigido J. Dulay said.
As of the posting of this report, the DFA said a total of 45 Filipinos are confirmed for repatriation.
Upon arrival in the Philippines, the repatriates from Wuhan and Hubei Province will be brought to the Athlete’s Village in New Clark City in Tarlac and will undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine per guidelines of the Department of Health.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III disclosed Friday morning in an an interview with radio DZMM that Filipinos planning to return to the country for quarantine will have to take pre-departure screening in China first before being allowed to fly back to the Philippines.
If they show any symptoms of the 2019-novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD), they would no longer be allowed to fly and have to proceed to a hospital in Wuhan, Duque said.
“From the airport, they would be fetched… what’s important is that they have a separate service vehicle,” he added in Filipino. “Then, their luggages will be disinfected.”
He said repatriated Filipinos already have pre-dedicated rooms, while their bags would be tagged accordingly.
Also, each repatriate will have his or her own room, which could accommodate two more if he or she has a kid.
While undergoing a two-week quarantine, OFW returnees would be provided with access to limited hours of Internet connection so they could make calls to their families.
Aside from it, the health department will give those under their care complete packed meals. Doctors and nurses wearing protective gears will also monitor the status of the repatriates.
And in case anyone from the repatriates would show symptoms while under quarantine, Duque said, “there is no problem as we have a dedicated ambulance that is ready to bring his/her to the hospital.”
President Duterte had earlier expressed willingness to welcome the returning Filipinos upon their arrival, but Duque said, it would still “depend on [the decision of the] Presidential Security Group” because “it is not really necessary [for him to welcome them].”
“If he could not be stopped, we are just going put him in safe distance. For example, he would be inside a bus where he could wave and see them,” Duque said.
Do’s and don’ts
Duque also bared that the Department of Health (DOH) will lay down the “dos and don’ts” that have to be followed at the Athletes’ Village by the returning OFWs to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the area should they be infected with the virus. These include limiting where they could roam around and requiring them to observe cleanliness through using various hygiene kits and disinfectant solutions.
“We will have a controlled environment. It will really be regulated. The reason you’re putting them under quarantine is to prevent them from infecting, others,” Duque said over DZBB interview Friday morning.
“They will be given hygiene kit so they could clean their tables and comfort rooms from time to time,” he added in another radio interview
Mode of transmission
“The mode of transmission is through respiratory droplet. Not through air but through phlegm, among others. So whoever touches a table, cellphone, book or computer with the virus, could also get infected by touching his nose,” he said.
Duque said that they are still finishing the complete list of rules, but gave assurance that the mental and psycho-social health of the returning OFWS will be given consideration.
“They will be allowed to go to place where they could breathe fresh air. Of course, we’re taking care of their mental and phsyco-social health,” Duque said.
The DOH is expecting some 40 to 50 OFWs from Wuhan. However, Duque said that they are still finalizing the list as some are still hesitant to return to the country
According to the DFA, the first repatriation team is in close coordination with another team from the DFA Home Office that will be flying in soon to Wuhan to assist in the effort.
On January 28, 2020, the DFA initiated the call to repatriate the workers through the facilitation of the Philippine embassy in Beijing and the Philippine Consulate General in Shanghai, the post which has jurisdiction over Wuhan and Hubei.
Filipinos in China were given until February 5, 2020, to register for the government repatriation service.