In clash of convenience and COVID protocol at airports, DOTr says health is primary
MANILA, Philippines—Health is primary.
This was the gist of a statement made by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in reply to a complaint, made by a social media user who doesn’t want to be identified, over hassles in getting out of the airport.
The Office for Transportation Security (OTS) under the DOTr explained that protocols being enforced in the country’s airports and piers were to keep passengers safe from coronavirus infection as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage.
“It is necessary to again impart to the public the health and safety protocols being implemented in our airports and also in other ports in the country to ensure the country’s health security,” said Transportation Undersecretary Raul del Rosario, OTS administrator and head of the One-Stop-Shop (OSS) at airports for Filipinos returning from abroad, in a statement in Filipino.
“We continue to ask for understanding from our countrymen who continue to trust in us,” Del Rosario said.
According to Del Rosario, an initial investigation by the OTS of the anonymous complaint that was spread on social media found that the complaining passengers landed at NAIA Terminal 2, where events described in the social media post took place.
Medical briefing inside the plane
In the social media post, the returning Filipino who did not identify himself or herself said that when the plane he was on arrived, he or she and other passengers were made to wait inside the plane “for a doctor and his staff to check everyone’s temperature and vaccination records.”
Del Rosario, speaking for the OTS, said due to limited space and “unique configuration” of NAIA 2, medical personnel was tasked with conducting routine checkups on passengers inside planes.
“Because of this and the limited medical personnel from BOQ who are spread throughout different airports and ports in the country, the BOQ decided to assign medical personnel to get up the arriving plane to conduct medical briefing, temperature check and verification of vaccination card,” said Del Rosario, referring to the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ).
On quarantine policy
Addressing the anonymous balikbayan’s grievances, the OTS reiterated instructions from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) under Resolution No. 199.
The current quarantine period is seven days for returning Philippine nationals who received their COVID-19 vaccine jabs in the Philippines.
Those who were vaccinated outside the country will be in quarantine for a total of 10 days.
“This policy is the government’s response to help our countrymen come home as soon as possible,” said Del Rosario. “But this does not mean we are loosening up safeguards against COVID-19,” he said.
The OTS, however, acknowledged challenges in verifying passengers’ vaccination history due to the lack of an international standard for verifying vaccination certificates.
Del Rosario said Philippine officials are studying quarantine policies to find ways and come up with rules to accommodate returning Filipinos, who had already received vaccines recognized by World Health Organization (WHO).
Online payment for COVID test
The anonymous social media user also sounded off a complaint on the process of paying for RT-PCR testing.
The complaint said passengers were “ushered in to the airport room where THEY MADE SURE that we PRE-PAY the SWAB test to be conducted on the seventh day” of quarantine.
Del Rosario cleared up the issue, explaining that the COVID test should be paid online and in advance.
“Only non-OFWs who have not paid online are being assisted by the OSS on arrival at NAIA and being asked to pay the amount due for their RT-PCR test,” Del Rosario said.
He also addressed the anonymous complainant’s rant against a molecular diagnostic lab at the airport.
Del Rosario said the company was not an agent of OSS contrary to what the complaining balikbayan said on the social media post.
The company mentioned by the anonymous complainant was among the first labs which offered help in testing returning Filipinos, said Del Rosario.
“These testing laboratories conduct RT-PCR test at NAIA according to the rules by OSS,” said Del Rosario.
Under these rules, he said, labs are required to submit data on every tested passenger which is reported to the IATF “so that updates are non-stop on our measures so we can give comfortable and convenient service to our countrymen.”
The anonymous complainant also blasted what the post said was overpriced transportation costs for those leaving NAIA.
“Since we are on quarantine, we cannot take outside transpo…So, we asked a hotel for a Sedan or equiv transpo, the cheapest of which cost P2,200. A van costs P3,500,” the post read.
“They contracted ALL TRANSFERS to an outside company or companies..not from d hotel!” it said.
Del Rosario advised the public to ride only vehicles authorized and accredited by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), like hotel shuttles and airport taxis, to bring them to their quarantine facilities.
He said this rule would help ensure passenger safety and prevent cases of returning Filipinos escaping from their quarantine facilities or skipping quarantine procedures.
“Unknown to many, there are many reports of ROF who tried to escape riding private vehicles or those who conspire with taxi drivers who are not authorized by the OSS to operate in NAIA,” Del Rosario said.
“We have never allowed these transport services to abuse ROF by charging fees in excess of what the government has fixed,” he said in his Filipino statement.
No ‘VIP treatment’
The supposed balikbayan, who is returning from the US, also narrated on social media that he and companion were able to get their luggage ahead of other passengers after they were assisted by a “high-level PAL friend,” referring to Philippine Airlines.
Del Rosario said the OTS maintains a policy of no VIP treatment for passengers as all baggage from the airplane goes through only one process at the NAIA before these are brought to carousels where passengers can pick these up.
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