MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFW) wait anxiously every day for the latest list of negative test results for the novel coronavirus, and they were surprised to see Chinese names turn up on that list on Monday, May 25.
A negative result of their COVID-19 swab test is an OFW’s ticket out of quarantine. Anxious to get home, some Filipino repatriates alerted reporters to what they suspected was a mix-up, hoping for an explanation and a remedy to the bottleneck in their test results. (WATCH: OFWs in prolonged quarantine because of delayed COVID-19 test results)
“As of now marami pa rin po mga Pilipino ang naghihintay ng results; some of them first week of May pa na-swab and until now, wala pang results. Mayroon pong iba na two months na sa quarantine facility,” an OFW in quarantine, who asked to be kept anonymous, told Rappler.
(As of now, many Filipinos are still waiting for their results; some of them tested on the first week of May but until now have no results. Some have been in a quarantine facility for two months already.)
“I don’t mind waiting because I want to make sure that I’m not a carrier of the virus and my family is safe. But I think it’s unfair na uunahin pa nila (that they prioritize) other citizens than their own,” added the OFW, who was swab-tested on May 15 but only got her negative result on Wednesday, May 27.
Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Admiral Joel Garcia on Wednesday explained to Rappler how the Chinese names wound up on the OFW list. They were among the 490 Chinese working for a tenant at Fontana Leisure Park in Clark Freeport, Pampanga, who were swab-tested for COVID-19 on May 21.
This means the Chinese got their test results just 4 days later.
The Chinese workers’ swab samples were taken by PCG personnel, who are also in charge of taking samples from repatriated OFWs. The PCG then submits all the samples to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), which runs them through the process. The PRC then relays the results to the PCG, which publishes a list of those who have tested negative.
“The PRC did not distinguish between OFWs and the Chinese workers from Fontana, who were inadvertently included in their report,” Garcia said.
The coast guard chief denied speculations that the Chinese workers got preferential treatment. “Those 400-plus Chinese remain on lockdown in Fontana, and cannot go anywhere,” he said.
Delayed results, prolonged quarantine
OFWs in prolonged quarantine have also complained that some of their fellow OFWs who were swab-tested more recently have already received their results and gone home, while others who were tested earlier are still waiting.
The mandatory quarantine period for returning OFWs is 14 days, but without their swab test results, they cannot be released.
Rappler spoke to 4 OFWs quarantined in different facilities in Metro Manila, who said they and dozens of their colleagues were still waiting for the results from their swab samples taken weeks before. They were all told the wait was only going to be 3 to 5 days.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said last week that the delay in OFWs’ swab test results was due to a shortage in encoders whose job is to input those results into the government’s database.
The government is looking to hire more encoders, Vergeire said.
The testing of the 490 Chinese workers in Fontana on May 21 followed the police raid of an alleged underground coronavirus clinic operating illegally in a villa inside the resort complex.
Fontana’s operator denied the allegation, and said the villa was owned by Shidaikeji Technology Corporation, the employer of the 490 Chinese.
There were reportedly around 70 Filipinos also working in the vicinity, but they were not tested for the coronavirus.
As of Wednesday, the PCG has released the negative swab test results of 36,832 returning overseas Filipinos. The Department of Transportation said it has also helped transport 7,217 repatriated OFWs to their home provinces as of Tuesday, May 26.
Also on Wednesday, the Philippines has recorded a total of 15,049 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 904 deaths and 3,506 recoveries. – Rappler.com