By Martin Sadongdong
The National Task Force on coronavirus disease (NTF COVID-19) will temporarily regulate the “Hatid Probinsya” program following the concerns raised by local chief executives that it contributed to the spike of new infections in Eastern Visayas (Region 8) and Lanao del Sur, part of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The Hatid Probinsya program (different from Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pagasa) is a short-term humanitarian effort to assist locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Metro Manila back to their home provinces due to limited transportation system.
Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the NTF COVID-19, said he received reports from local chief executives that some individuals who availed the program were later found to be positive for COVID-19.
“We are temporarily regulating [the] Hatid Probinsya para makasiguro tayo na ligtas ang mga lugar na kanilang pupuntahan (to ensure that the areas of their destination will be safe),” he said in a virtual presser on Friday night.
“May mga issue po na ang ilan ay pinagmulan ng spike ng positive COVID cases (There were issues that it caused a spike in the number of positive cases),” he added.
As of Friday, June 19, records from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that Eastern Visayas has the third most number of new cases among the 17 regions. It has 226 new cases behind Metro Manila (1,932) and Central Visayas or Region 7 (1,452).
Meanwhile, Leyte has the fifth most number of new cases among provinces and cities nationwide. It has 107 new cases, trailing Cebu City (906), Cebu province (261), Manila (228), and Quezon City (219).
In Lanao del Sur, Bangsamoro Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) spokesperson Mohd Asnin Pendatun said there were 72 positive cases as of June 18.
Of these, 56 are active cases, 12 have recovered, and four died.
Pendatun said seven of the newly recorded cases from June 17 to 18 were LSIs and repatriated OFWs who availed the Hatid Probinsya program.
As such, Galvez stated that the NTF was already “polishing” the process of sending the repatriated OFWs and LSIs back to their homes to ensure that they are free from the virus.
“I would like to thank our LGUs (local government units) for your continued vigilance and patience,” he said.
At present, a total of 54,260 OFWs have been repatriated so far. There are 42,000 more OFWs who will be returning in the coming months.
Meanwhile, 30,495 LSIs have been sent back to their home provinces and cities.