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DoTr orders 7th day swabbing for arriving seafarers, OFWs

DoTr orders 7th day swabbing for arriving seafarers, OFWs
CIH June 23, 2021

Reiterating its strict travel ban imposed earlier on seven countries, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) ordered the strict enforcement of testing and quarantine protocols for disembarking seafarers and all inbound international travelers in all ports of the country "regardless of the specific protocols issued by the local government units (LGUs)."

The DoTr issued a notice on June 19, 2021, apparently to settle once and for all the disagreement over some protocols, specifically the swabbing on the day of arrival of travelers including returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) as being practiced in the Cebu province since March 2021.

This requires only two or three days to stay in hotels while waiting for the RT-PCR test result. If the test yielded negative results, they would be allowed to go home where they can continue the compliance to the quarantine period. On the 7th day, a swab test will again be conducted to comply with the directive of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IAF).

The practice gained support from some OFWs groups. In a letter to the IATF, the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines (ISP), ANGKLA Partylist group, Mariners' and Allied Transport Employees Union (MATEU), and Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SONAME), jointly appealed for the Swab-Upon-Arrival-Policy that the Cebu province had adopted for returning OFWs.

In its June 19 notice, the DoTr was emphatic that in all crew change operations, "the current quarantine and testing protocols (10+4) for disembarking seafarers" should be observed.

This means a 10- day quarantine, if the swab test on the 7th were negative, they would be sent home to spend another 4 days in quarantine to complete the IATF required 14-day quarantine period.

The notice was issued also in response to the growing threat posed by the more pernicious COVID-19 Delta variant from India that had entered the country with OFWs as carriers. So far, 19 persons were already identified in the country to have been infected with the highly contagious variant that triggered the second wave of infection in India.

It said that regardless of nationality, disembarking seafarers shall proceed to the One-Stop-Shop (OSS) facility for briefing and verification of documents. Then, they shall proceed to the quarantine facility designated by the Overseas Worker Administration (OWWA) and accredited by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).

The IATF reiterated that "notwithstanding a negative test result (on the 7th day), seafarers must complete the facility-based quarantine period of ten days."

"Immediately upon receipt of negative test results, the local port agent or licensed manning Agency (LMA) representative must coordinate with OWWA regarding the transport arrangements of Filipino seafarers bound to their home provinces.

"Those seafarers who tested positive shall be handled under the procedures of BOQ," said the IATF notice signed by the Transportation Undersecretary for Maritime VAdm. Narciso Vingson Jr. and addressed to all One-Stop-Shop (OSS) in different ports and licensed manning agencies (LMAs).

Further, it added: "The local port agent or LMA representative must guarantee that the Filipino seafarers will be transported via Point-to-Point Scheme and that they shall report directly to the Rural Health Unit (RHU) in their respective provinces for the completion of the remainder of their fourteen (14) day quarantine."

The notice also reminded all to observe the existing guidelines for the travel restrictions imposed on travelers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, United Arab Emirates, and Oman to contain the spread of the Delta Variant of COVID-19.

The notice was issued following the directive of President Duterte that the LGU of Cebu should observe the protocols set by the IATF.