COVID-19 quarantine: ‘We won’t allow tourists to be stranded in PH’ – DOT
MANILA, Philippines — With dwindling flights and airport closures following the imposition of enhanced community quarantine over Luzon and similar measures in the Visayas and Mindanao due to the COVID-19 contagion, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has been struggling to transport and find flights for foreign and local tourists stranded in Philippine tourist spots.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said DOT was coordinating with local government units, local airport and airline staff, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP), and the interior, defense and transportation departments for recovery flights, transportation, meals, and accommodation for the stranded tourists.
“[We] will not allow any tourists to be stranded here in the Philippines. We have mounted recovery flights with our airlines and the military to bring our tourists home safely. Our regional offices have been in close coordination with the LGUs to facilitate the transit of passengers to their respective international and domestic gateways,” Puyat said in a statement.
Department of Transportation spokesperson Goddes Libiran said Tuesday that all passengers, regardless of nationality, may depart from the country up to 12 a.m. Mar. 20, unless their flights have been canceled by the airlines or the Civil Aeronautics Board.
After Thursday midnight, all international airports in Luzon shall be closed except for inbound Filipinos, Philippine permanent residents or their spouses and children coming from overseas, and cargo flights. Other local government units have imposed their own travel restrictions on inbound and outbound Filipino and foreign travelers.
Many more outbound foreigners are in danger of getting stranded because major local carriers have already canceled their domestic flights at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and other local airports.
As of 3 p.m., even Filipinos who have arrived from international flights and who wanted to take connecting flights to the Visayas and Mindanao or go to their homes in Metro Manila and Luzon provinces were themselves stranded at NAIA terminals due to lack of public transport.
In an advisory, Philippine Airlines said all of its domestic flights are canceled starting Tuesday until Apr. 12.
“We shall continue to operate international flights up to 11:59 p.m. on Mar. 19, 2020. We will announce in due course the status of our international flights from Mar. 20 up to Apr. 12, as we are presently coordinating with government authorities on relevant implementing details,” PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said in an advisory.
She said the PAL Manila Airport Ticket Office at NAIA Terminal 2 will remain open from 2 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily, seven days a week. However, all other PAL ticket offices in Metro Manila will be closed to comply with quarantine directives.
Cebu Pacific Air said it canceled all of its flights to and from Cebu on Tuesday “due to stricter quarantine screening on our personnel imposed by the provincial government.” All Cebu Pacific flights, as well as Cebgo flights, will be canceled from Mar. 19 to Apr. 14.
The last day of operations will be on Wednesday, Mar. 18, where Cebu Pacific will operate the following flights (roundtrip) to and from Bangkok, Tokyo-Narita, Osaka, Nagoya, Ho Chi Minh, Singapore, Taipei, and Denpasar, Bali.
AirAsia also canceled its domestic flights to and from NAIA and Clark until Apr. 14. International flights from both airports will be canceled starting Thursday. International flights from Cebu and Kalibo have already been canceled upon the directives of the LGU.
CAAP said that due to decrease in flights, airports in Bacolod, Roxas, and Kalibo will be operating from sunrise to sunset only. CAAP regional centers have also put in place skeletal workforce especially in areas where local authorities imposed community quarantines.
With domestic travel restrictions in place over Metro Manila since March 15, flights have been redirected to either Clark or Cebu (for outgoing international flights only), with PAL, Cebu Pacific AirAsia and AirSwift mounting recovery flights this weekend.
DOT said it has already assisted some 2,500 tourists by arranging new flights to Cebu or Clark and arranging transportation to Manila and other cities. Most of the assisted tourists came from Coron, El Nido, and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.
As of Tuesday, DOT was also assisting local and foreign tourists from Boracay, Puerto Galera, and Siquijor.
Several C-130 military planes from the Department of National Defense are on stand-by to assist stranded passengers in case airlines are not able to provide recovery flights on time.
In Tuguegarao, one such military plane carried the stranded delegates of Zamboanga Schools Division who attended the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) to Clark for transport to Manila.
In Davao City, Cebu Pacific mounted a recovery flight, while following safety protocols set by the Davao LGU, to transport the stranded passengers to Clark, where the residents can travel back to Manila by land.
With Clark as the main gateway for domestic flights from other regions for the transit of passengers to Manila, it can be expected that the city will need more than the usual available transport.
The DOT lauded the Genesis Transport Service Inc. for deploying an additional 16 P2P buses from the 24 buses that are regularly stationed in Clark to address the influx of arriving passengers, especially those coming from Palawan. The buses can shepherd the passengers to Ortigas, and NAIA Terminals 1, 2 and 3.
Aside from the 40 units P2P buses, three double-decker (50-seater) and six high decker (49-seater) buses are on standby now in Clark and Bulacan.
At least 10 DOT accredited travel agents in Pampanga are now on standby to provide full assistance to tourists in arranging their return flights.
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