MANILA, Philipines — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday pressed the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to resume its testing services for thousands of arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to keep them from getting stranded in quarantines.
As of Wednesday, the number of repatriated workers cooped up in quarantines owing to delayed results of COVID-19 tests has reached 6,000.
Thousands of workers have been forced to stay longer in hotels after the PRC halted last week its testing services for the workers following the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.’s (PhilHealth) failure to pay P930 million for past tests.
Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte’s assurance on the full payment of PhilHealth arrears should “be enough” reason for Red Cross to resume its testing.
“What I’m saying is the President has committed to pay. I don’t think there’s any reason for the Red Cross to doubt that the President is committed to pay. And because of this, I believe that testing should continue because the Red Cross has been assured that they will be paid,” he said.
Sen. Richard Gordon, PRC chair, declined to comment on the matter.Roque said 50 percent of the arrears would be paid “if not this week, then next week at the soonest.”
He said there was now “an understanding” between the government and the PRC that the COVID-19 testing services would continue.
No reason for delays
“[It] is is substantial, you’re talking of half a billion [pesos]. So, I understand that the Red Cross cannot continue functioning unless it also has its cash requirements. And that’s why we give utmost priority to settling at least 50 percent. Because it is to the interest of both Red Cross and the country that we continue our RT-PCR testing since the Red Cross is responsible for 25 percent of all our testings,” Roque said. The spokesperson said there should be no reason for the delays because there are about 150 laboratories and testing centers that could administer RT-PCR swab tests.
Overseas workers and others returning from abroad are tested for the coronavirus at the airport and taken to quarantines to wait for their test results. They have to test negative for the virus before they could be allowed to go home. “The 6,000 (OFWs) are stranded because they have to wait for the result of the swabbing test,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in an online media forum.
OFWs used to stay in the hotels for a maximum of three days before they get their results from the PRC and they could be transported to their home provinces.
Increasing numbersBello warned that the number of OFWs in quarantine facilities would keep increasing every day since around 130,000 more are expected to be repatriated until year-end.
“I hope that this issue will be resolved within this week so the problem won’t worsen and our expenses will not get bigger,” Bello said, referring to the settlement of PhilHealth’s arrears to PRC.
Until the PRC stopped its testing, authorities managed to transport about 1,000 to 3,000 OFWs to their provinces every day. Now, due to the delay in test results, only around 300 were being brought home daily.
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