By Roy C. Mabasa
More than 12,500 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have been repatriated back to the Philippines as of Monday and hundreds more are expected to return beyond the Holy Week.
The DFA made this announcement on Monday morning as it welcomed the arrival of 440 seafarers via a chartered flight from the United States.
The latest repatriates were crew members of cruise ships M/S Norwegian Epic and M/S Marina which were stranded in Miami due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Majority of the returning OFWs are crew members of COVID-19 stricken cruise ships as well as ships affected by the imposition of the no-sail order by the United States government.
On the global scale, there were at least 35 cruise ships that have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard, according to a report by the news site, Business Insider.
The Diamond Princess posted the biggest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases with 712. Almost half of the crew members of the virus-stricken Diamond Princess were Filipinos who were repatriated back to the Philippines on February 26, 2020 after spending almost three weeks at the Port of Yokohama in Japan.
It was earlier reported that more than 7,000 Filipino seafarers are heading home aboard cruise ships from Australia, Italy, the Caribbean, and the United States in addition to the more than 12,500 who have returned so far due to the coronavirus crisis.
Migrant workers consultant Emmanuel Geslani said major cruise operators such as Royal Caribbean, P&O Australia, Celebrity, Costa lines, and Holland America lines have opted to bring back to Manila the estimated 7,000 OFWs instead of chartering commercial aircraft which is becoming more difficult these days due to the existing lockdowns in many countries, including the Philippines.
Upon their return, the repatriates are required to undergo the 14-day quarantine in areas pre-approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID).