2nd wave of COVID-19 feared; P20B aid, mandatory testing for .42M returning OFWs urged

COVID-19

A HOUSE leader on Thursday said the government’s anti-coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) campaign should extend at least P20 billion economic relief to at least almost half a million returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and subject them to mandatory testing to prevent possible second wave of infections.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, who chairs the House committee on ways and means, has proposed a strategy to prepare the country for the arrival of some 420,000 OFWs in the coming months or immediately after the peak of the coronavirus health emergency in the Philippnes.

Salceda underscored the importance of mandatory testing to prevent a second wave of the COVID-19 infections, explaining returning OFWs may come from heavily-infected countries.

He said the Bayanihan “Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 should fund the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) programs for OFWs in the amount of P20 billion.

He further explained that one of the major negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis that could persist and inflict structural damage on the economy is the loss of income and aggregate demand, and remittances of almost $5 billion per year.

"That may take two to three years before we can restore it to normal levels. We're highly exposed because some of our best-paid OFWs are sea-based, and that relies on tourism and global trade, which would suffer lingering effects within the next 24 to 36 months,” Salceda lamented.

“Consensus estimate is that some 230 to 250 thousand OFWs will be displaced or dislocated from their jobs. We did a value chain analysis and we find that that is in fact a net number. Sa value chain analysis po namin ng major economies and sectors where there are OFWs, we found that up to 420,000 may come home from the Philippines at some point within the next six months, with 170 to 180 thousand of them coming home because of temporary circumstances. Kumbaga, pauuwiin lang tapos pababalikin din pag humupa na ang sitwasyon,” Salceda explained.

“Ibig sabihin po, we have to prepare to process, quarantine, and test as many as 420,000 OFWs. We have constraints pero kailangan pong gawan ng paraan,” said Salceda.

Salceda stressed that the country’s overseas workforce is significantly exposed to what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now declared to be a global recession, as up to 25% of total remittances at any given time come from sea-based work in trade-heavy and tourism-related sectors.

He said transborder travel also exposes them to possible COVID-19 infection.

“If we cannot test them, that is potentially a massive wave of vectors that, if they infect others, could overwhelm the health care system. So they will need to be tested and isolated,” Salceda pointed out.

“At the same time, kapag walang ipapakain sa sarili at pamilya, hahanap at hahanap ‘yan ng paraan na lumabas ng quarantine, kaysa mamatay sa gutom. That’s why aid on top of the usual programs they are entitled to under DOLE’s CAMP and TUPAD will be necessary,” he explained.

Salceda said he is proposing that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases adopt a unified protocol for handling returning OFWs.

“Let’s come up with a quarantine protocol. As soon as they arrive, they have to declare in a detailed manner the places where they came from within a period of time. You test them afterwards. As soon as they accomplish that truthfully, you give them cash, outright, as assistance for themselves and their families. You place them in some place for quarantine, or you send them home but you alert the police and the local authorities, down to the Barangay, so that the 14-day quarantine can be imposed,” he said.

“You essentially consider them persons under monitoring,” said Salceda.

Salceda led calls to enforce a lockdown on Metro Manila immediately following reports of community transmission in San Juan, and was among the first to propose an emergency subsidy program for poor families.

He has also filed House Bill (HB) No. 6096, which seeks create a Center for Disease Control and establishing special powers to address a health emergency as early as January.