Nearly three weeks after it was suspended to allow contact tracing in the wake of three new COVID-19 cases in the province, the Balik Happy Island Program (BHIP) buses will resume its twice-weekly trips from Metro Manila to Catanduanes this July 6, 2020.
This was announced by Governor Joseph Cua last week, following reports that none of the close contacts of the recent coronavirus cases tested positive for the virus.
“…(W)e believe that the lax measures being placed on those individuals with private vehicles at the time of the suspension of the program, are still in place today,” he said.
At last week’s meeting of the Provincial COVID-19 Task Force, the chief executive had underscored that many of those travelling by private cars are undocumented while the BHIP has proven to be very effective.
“We believe that the continuation of the said program would help us strictly monitor the entry of both LSIs and ROFs (Returning Overseas Filipinos) in the province,” the governor said in announcing the resumption of BHIP operations for Catandunganons who wish to return home.
He assured that those among the more than 5,000 people who have filed applications that it will be processed and facilitated immediately.
The provincial government has allocated P5,000 per LSI to pay for their rapid COVID-19 test and fare aboard the 10 buses making the overland trip to Tabaco City.
“We are not objecting to the resumption of the Balik Happy Island Program (BHIP),” Dr. Vietrez Abella, chief of the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC) said, in asking that the hospital be provided with copies of the list of returning LSIs so it can have its own file in case someone tests positive.
She remarked that the program is well coordinated with the barangays and municipal health offices and the LSIs strictly monitored by the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs).
Provincial Health Officer II Dr. Hazel Palmes noted that that with the BHIP suspended, many such undocumented Locally Stranded Individuals have traveled to the island while not one of those who availed of the BHIP trips has tested positive.
She emphasized that, unlike these undocumented travelers, none of those who came in via BHIP has tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
Records of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Bicol show that out of the 1,572 displaced Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) it repatriated to the region as of June 23, 2020, Catanduanes accounted for 80 returnees brought home through the “Uwian Na” program.
The program provides unhampered transportation to OFWs back to their provinces in Bicol either by land, air and sea transport.
The OFWs will only cleared to come home once they have undergone Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test for COVID-19 and completed the 14-day quarantine.
Only those with negative results and are listed in the OWWA quarantine facilities can avail of the “Uwian Na” Program, OWWA said in a report.
However, all three active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Catanduanes are OFWs sent home through the OWWA program, including one who managed to secure a seat on the agency’s chartered van using a questioned Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) certificate despite testing positive for coronavirus.