MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has announced that it will implement a “new normal process” in its consular offices, as it prepares to resume operations in areas that are no longer under lockdown beginning Monday, May 4.
“We seek the understanding of the public as we shift to a ‘new normal’ process so that we can minimize potential health hazards for applicants and our personnel alike while ensuring the prompt and efficient delivery of consular services to the public,” Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Neil Frank Ferrer said in a press statement on Saturday, May 2.
The DFA said the new process – to be observed in all consular offices once the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) ends in their respective areas – followed the health protocols prescribed by the Department of Health (DOH) in relation to the coronavirus outbreak.
The new process at the consular offices includes the following:
- Walk-in applications will be suspended during the general community quarantine (GCQ) period
- Physical distancing will be strictly observed
- Accommodation of applicants will be strictly regulated. Everyone availing of consular services, including passport issuance or renewal coursed through the Courtesy Lane and the Diplomatic and Official Passports Section, will now need to schedule an appointment via e-mail.
- Applicants are encouraged to avail of online payments and delivery of passports to minimize physical contact and reduce the risk of exposure. Those who cannot avail of these services can still transact and collect their passport and documents at the consular office while observing strict physical distancing measures on their day of appointment.
- Applicants aged 60 and above, and those considered by the DOH to be vulnerable, are advised not to proceed with their applications for consular services at this time. In urgent cases, they can coordinate with the Office of Consular Affairs further on how they may be accommodated.
The DFA said that all applicants and personnel will be subjected to temperature checks, and required to wear masks before entering and while in the consular offices.
The DFA said some consular offices that suspended operations due to the lockdown will resume operations on Monday, May 4, after they were removed from the list of areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
The consular offices are in the following areas:
- Cotabato City
- La Union
- Legazpi City,Albay
- Puerto Princesa City, Palawan
- Santiago City, Isabela
- Tuguegarao City,Cagayan
The DFA said the rest of the consular offices in Luzon will be closed for the duration of the ECQ which was extended until May 15.
The DFA said that consular offices in the Visayas and Mindanao such as those in Butuan, Dumaguete City, General Santos City, Tacloban City, and Clarin town in Misamis Occidental did not suspend operations throughout most or all of the quarantine period.
In the case of its consular office in Clarin, however, the DFA said that since Misamis Occidental will be under modified GCQ until May 15, applicants from outside the province need to present documents to the provincial government to be allowed entry into the province.
The government earlier placed the entire Luzon under lockdown from March 17 to April 12, but extended this to April 30. It later again extended the ECQ in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon until May 15, and imposed it in a few areas in the Visayas and Mindanao from May 1 to 15.
At the House of Representatives, a bill was filed seeking to institutionalize new norms of physical distancing in public spaces – like the wearing of face masks – even after the lifting of the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus.
The Philippines has 8,772 coronavirus cases, with 579 deaths and 1,084 recoveries as of Friday, May 1. – Rappler.com
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