MANILA: The Philippine military is in the process of converting an island in the Basilan province into a quarantine zone to temporarily house Filipinos returning from Malaysia due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Officials said on Monday that 70 percent of the work was complete.
Sibakel Island, an uninhabited area under the jurisdiction of the Lantawan municipality in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, is currently home for more than 100 Filipinos who returned from Sabah, Malaysia recently but were refused entry by local government units.
“They were part of the 413 Filipinos who arrived from Sabah on board two private vessels on March 17. However, other local government units denied them entry for fear that they might be infected by the coronavirus disease,” Major Arvin John Encinas, spokesperson for Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), told Arab News.
He added that a majority were not allowed entry in Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and initially even in Basilan.
“Local officials in Basilan later agreed to allow 282 of the returnees to disembark since they are residents of the province,” Encinas said.
Following the developments, the military proposed using Sibakel island as a quarantine area for the remaining 131 Filipinos who were stranded on the two vessels.
“Under the presidential proclamation, we have to accept them, but they have to undergo quarantine procedures,” Westmincom Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said. “We took the initiative to look for an island for quarantine purposes.”
To move ahead with the process, all 131 Filipinos were ferried to the island on March 20 where they will observe a 14-day quarantine before being allowed to return to their families.
The military, along with representatives from various government agencies, conducted an ocular inspection of the island on March 19 before declaring it appropriate for use as a quarantine area.
The entire process, Encinas said, involved setting up tents and other facilities for returnees, security personnel, and representatives from government agencies looking after those under quarantine.
Before that, all 131 nationals were subjected to medical screening procedures on the island with officials saying that there were no infected patients on the island and that the returnees were being moved there as part of a mandatory quarantine measure.
“COVID-19 is an illness that starts with ‘I’. We have to change this ‘I’ to ‘We.’ We must continue to work together towards wellness in order to defeat this illness,” Sobejana said.
Once on the island, the returnees were provided with food packs, sleeping bags, hygiene kits, drinking water, movable tents and other essential commodities.
Sobejana said they are anticipating that the current number of returning Filipinos from Sabah and other parts of Malaysia will increase.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 82 new cases, bringing the total number of infected people to 462.
The DOH also reported eight additional deaths, increasing the number of fatalities from 25 to 33, with the department saying that 18 patients had recovered from the disease.
Earlier on Sunday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the number of coronavirus cases could rise further due to improved testing facilities in the laboratories.
The entire island of Luzon is currently under lockdown to avoid the spread of the virus, with other areas in Visayas and Mindanao also imposing community quarantine measures to limit the disease.