MANILA, Philippines – (2nd UPDATE) The Philippine government temporarily suspended all flights to and from the country starting Sunday morning, May 3, to “mitigate” the spread of the coronavirus.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) made the announcement at 11:50 pm on Saturday, May 2, just mere hours before the effectivity of the flight ban at 8 am on Sunday.
NAIA said the flight suspension was ordered by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, chief implementer of the National Task Force COVID-19.
“To help further mitigate the spread of the deadly Corona Virus in the country, the Philippine Government, through Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Chief Implementer of the National Taskforce Against COVID-19, has decided to temporarily suspend all commercial/passenger flights to and from the country beginning 8:00am of May 3, 2020,” NAIA’s post read.
The post did not mention specific guidelines for passengers, including overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) and Filipino citizens who want to leave or return to the country. The post only mentioned that “cargo flights, medical supplies, utility, and maintenance flights will remain unhampered.”
Galvez later clarified that the following will be exempted from the flight ban:
- Emergencies while enroute
- Cargo flights
- Air ambulance and medical supplies flights
- Weather mitigation flights
- Maintenance flights
- Sweeper flights for foreign nationals repatriating back to their respective countries.
All domestic air arrivals and departures at the NAIA will remain suspended.
In a separate statement, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said it issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) suspending all domestic and international commercial flights to and from the Philippines for one week starting Sunday.
However, international flights that wish to land or depart from the Philippines should request for an exemption with the CAAP Operations Center at least 36 hours before the scheduled departure from the airport of origin.
The CAAP’s order covers NAIA, Davao International Airport, Clark International Airport, Iloilo International Airport, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Zamboanga International Airport, Kalibo International Airport, Laoag International Airport, and Puerto Princesa International Airport.
Galvez explained the flight ban aims to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to protect returning OFWs. He said around 20,000 OFWs are undergoing quarantine in Metro Manila.
“This decision is meant to decongest our quarantine facilities to protect our people by preventing the further spread of COVID-19 and also ensure that our overseas Filipino workers are well taken cared of when they arrive from abroad,” Galvez said.
“The new flight restriction is only temporary and will be implemented for one week to give the government the opportunity to decongest the quarantine facilities in Metro Manila,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte extended the lockdown on several high risk areas in the country, including Luzon island where NAIA is located, to May 15 in order to prevent the rising number of COVID-19 cases, which stood at 8,928 on Saturday afternoon.
A total of 1,741 overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) have so far been infected abroad as well.
Several Facebook users were seething over the sudden suspension of travel, arguing they have already booked flights either bound to leave or arrive in the Philippines on Sunday.
“It was so unwise decision made by the government. They should not have suddenly decided stopping flights out of the blue. They should have posted ahead of time (giving passengers a time to cancel or for them not to book any flights.) I have outbound flight schedule today May 3 and they just posted it last 6 hours,” said Facebook user May Bautista.
Seafarer Roldan Abarentos also commented OFWs like him have “been waiting so long” just to go back home.
“And now we all most there with our flight schedule this coming May 9. As [seafarers], we really want to go home. We’re stuck in the ship, and now, again, you make decision without any further notice… This is a style of our government. So frustrating!!!” said Abarentos.
The Department of Transportation has also extended to May 15 the rental holiday for airport concessionaires. – Rappler.com