MANILA: The Philippines on Sunday started rejecting international flights to its airports for a week, as part of the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The move, made on the request of the National Task Force (NTF), follows Metro Manila’s quarantine facilities reaching full capacity due to a recent surge in returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
“The moratorium on flights is being imposed to allow the current system to ramp its capacity to properly process the growing number of Filipino repatriates coming back to the Philippines,” Secretary Carlito Galvez, the NTF’s chief implementer, said in a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Saturday.
Galvez said the measure “will allow the government’s frontline agencies to upgrade their testing and screening protocols and expand existing quarantine and medical facilities” to deal with the growing number of OFWs and COVID-19 cases in the Philippines.
The government has already accommodated more than 20,000 repatriates who are quarantined in Metro Manila, with an arrival rate of 2,000 per day.
Records shared by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) indicate that a total of 24,422 OFWs had been repatriated as of Saturday.
“Repatriation efforts are being adjusted to comply with the directives of the NTF on COVID-19. OFWs will remain where they are in the meantime,” said Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez, a DFA spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the DOTr said that the decision to restrict international airports in the country was “deemed necessary ... to ensure (we) do not experience a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the increasing number of international passenger arrivals.”
The statement added: “Most of our repatriated citizens are coming from countries which have experienced a significant COVID-19 outbreak.”
Eric Apolonio, spokesperson of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said it had issued a notice for the suspension of inbound international flights starting from May 3 to May 9.
The directive covers all nine international airports in the country — the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Davao, Clark, Iloilo, Mactan-Cebu, Zamboanga, Kalibo, Laoag and Puerto Princesa.
Apolonio added that flights for medical, cargo, utility and maintenance reasons were exempt from the move, in addition to select flights for foreign nationals returning to their respective countries.
However, he said that “international flights wishing to land and depart must submit an exemption request with the CAAP operations center at least 36 hours before the scheduled departure from their place of origin.”
As of Sunday, there were 9,223 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, with 1,214 recoveries and 607 deaths reported.