Iloilo mayors oppose new rules easing return of OFWs to their hometowns
ILOILO CITY—Mayors of towns in Iloilo province are challenging new guidelines from the National Task Force Against COVID-19 that would allow overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to return to their home provinces and towns without retesting and quarantine upon their arrival.
“We do not agree with the guidelines,” Mayor Rosario Mediatrix Fernandez, of San Enrique town, said on Tuesday (Sept. 1).
“All our efforts, resources, sacrifices will be put to waste,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez, also president of the Iloilo chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), said mayors are drafting a resolution to formally oppose the guidelines on returning OFWs.
“We hope the national task force sees the consequence of this decision,” she said.
Under the guidelines dated Aug. 19 and received by local government units on Tuesday, OFWs arriving in their home provinces would no longer be tested and put on quarantine if they had tested negative for coronavirus through the more exhaustive RT-PCR method and had finished quarantine in Metro Manila.
Upon arrival in their hometowns, the returning OFWs would be brought directly to their homes, according to the guideline.
But Fernandez said retesting and another round of quarantine for OFWs and other returnees were essential in ensuring no infected person returns to their hometowns, families and communities. Iloilo local government units have been retesting and subjecting returnees to new rounds of quarantine.
Fernandez said her town had already seen several returnees, who tested negative in Manila, “but turned out to be positive when they were retested here.” “We are daily facing the problem of a rising number of cases,” she said.
She said many hospitals in Iloilo province had already stopped admitting COVID-19 patients for lack of room and because health workers are already exhausted.
“We brought one of our residents exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to Iloilo City and it took us six hours going from one hospital to another before the patient was admitted,” Fernandez said.
Another Iloilo town mayor said local governments will quarantine returnees in their towns if they saw the need to do so and even in defiance of the national task force guidelines.
The mayor, who asked not to be identified, said “it has been proven so many times” that returnees who tested negative in Manila “became positive upon repeat test.”
“We can only effectively contain the spread of local transmission if they are isolated and tested again,” the mayor said.
“Our collapsing health system will completely crumble if there will be more local transmissions,” the mayor added.
Fernandez said providing quarantine facilities for 14 days to returnees was a burden for local governments but that they were willing to bear it to ensure their constituents’ safety.
“This is for the safety and health of the families and their community,” she said.
Local government units in Western Visayas have been asking the national government to suspend the transport of returnees to give time to health officials and workers to prepare isolation facilities.
The Department of Health in Western Visayas reported 4,684 COVID-19 cases in the region as of Aug. 31. These included 76 deaths and 2,301 active cases.
Out of the total number of cases, 1,569 involved returnees and those who had been allowed to leave their homes.
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