Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has given his government a week to process about 24,000 repatriated Filipino workers stuck for weeks on cruise ships or in COVID-19 quarantine, so they can finally go home.
Thousands are aboard cruise vessels off Manila Bay or stuck in hotels and crowded health facilities, and some are growing frustrated having tested negative for the coronavirus and completed the mandated 14-day quarantine.
Overseas Filipino workers are breadwinners and a key support base of Duterte. Their more than US$30 billion of annual remittances is a key driver of the Philippine economy, sustaining millions of family members.
“The president said they can use all government resources and whatever means of transportation — bus, airplane, ships — to bring the OFWs [Overseas Filipino workers] home,” Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.
The government is braced for hundreds of thousands more workers to return due to job losses as the coronavirus devastates economies worldwide.
It has blamed the delays on a testing bottleneck.
The cruise ship cluster off Manila Bay included 29 vessels yesterday, none with passengers aboard. They contain thousands of Filipino crew awaiting coronavirus tests, many no longer receiving salaries and are frustrated at having already met conditions for release.
Some crew said that information was scarce and prolonged isolation was taking a toll on their mental and emotional health.
Jex Banega, a receptionist on Carnival Corp’s Pacific Explorer, said he was being well cared for, but after 35 days of quarantine, his cabin felt more like prison cell.
“We’re only thinking of going home to our families. The comfort of our homes is different,” Banega said.
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