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Return of stranded folk to 3 Mindanao provinces halted

WAITING FOR A RIDE In this photo taken last month, Mindanao-bound passengers are forced to stay at the center island of Andrews Avenue in Pasay City after the cancellation of their flights. —EDWIN BACASMAS

A unit of the national task force overseeing efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has suspended for 15 days the issuance of travel authority to residents wanting to return to the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Camiguin in Mindanao to give local governments time to prepare for their arrival.

Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, Joint Task Force COVID Shield chief, said he had already notified police commanders in Metro Manila of the “suspension of repatriation” to these provinces from July 1 to July 15, citing the decision of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, chair of the National Task Force Against COVID-19.

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Lorenzana earlier approved the request of Governors Jim Hataman Salliman (Basilan), Mamintal Adiong Jr. (Lanao del Sur) and Jurdin Jesus Romualdo (Camiguin) to suspend the return of stranded residents to their provinces.

Maximum capacity

“In most cases, the request for suspension of repatriation is because the quarantine facilities in the provinces have reached their maximum capacity,” Eleazar said.

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Aside from the three provinces, he said the issuance of travel authority for stranded residents bound for Western Visayas and Eastern Visayas had remained suspended since last month.

In Lanao del Sur, Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the provincial task force on COVID-19, said the province’s request for suspension came following a surge in COVID-19 cases, from only nine before the returnees arrived in early June to 110 as of July 6.

Since June 3, 4,604 people, either stranded in Metro Manila or arriving overseas workers, have returned to Lanao del Sur, said Sheila Devnani-Ganda, who oversees the management of returnees in the province.

Of these returnees, 101 had tested positive for COVID-19, accounting for 92 percent of total cases in Lanao del Sur.

Ample time

Adiong said the province only has limited number of isolation centers compared to the volume of returnees arriving. He was hoping that it would be able to improve the system, in time for the arrival of the next batch of returnees.

Ganda said the province was suggesting a two-week interval in the arrival of returnees.

“[That would] give us in the ground ample time to gather our strength and manage efficiently these arrivals because after all, those assigned on the ground are not immortals. We are humans, too,” she said.

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Returnees in Lanao del Sur arrive via the seaports of Ozamiz, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities, and the airports of Awang in Maguindanao, Laguindingan in Misamis Oriental, and Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Hatid Tulong, stranded individuals, travel restrictions
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