All arriving passengers aboard commercial flights to Virac beginning July 3, 2020 will be made to underfo rapid testing for COVID-19 as one of the conditions set by the provincial government for the resumption of such flights.
This was learned by the Tribune from a capitol source, who said that officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and Cebu Pacific Airways came to the capitol last Thursday after attending a hearing on the same issue at the Sangguniang Bayan of Virac.
While Governor Joseph Cua expressed his desire to allow the resumption of regular flights from Manila, he manifested in a letter to CAAP Director General Capt. Jim Sydiongco that the flights will resume only under certain conditions.
Passengers will be limited only to Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs), Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs), Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APORs), and those invited by the provincial government and other Local Government Units (LGUs) in Catanduanes.
All passengers must obtain health certificate and Travel Authority from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and minimum public health standards shall be strictly enforced, Cua said.
“All arriving passengers shall fill out contact tracing forms and must undergo rapid COVID-19 test,” he informed.
Those who test negative shall be allowed to proceed to their destination, the letter stated, but those who test positive shall be immediately transported to the LGU-designated quarantine facility for the 14-day quarantine and must undergo confirmatory RT-PCR test.
A copy of the passenger manifest must be sent to the provincial government at least a day before the departure of the flight, which the governor said must have a 50% seating capacity with its passengers one seat apart.
The airline, however, has insisted that there is no restriction on their seating capacity but clarified it will consider the suggestions of local governments.
Cebu Pacific requires the following documents for passengers on their “essential travel”: Medical Clearance Certificate issued by the city/municipal health office and travel authorization from the PNP, for LSIs; Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) Certificate, passport (with arrival stamp) and ID with place of residence, for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs); and, Certificate of Employment or Company ID, Medical Clearance Certificate, and Travel Authority from the PNP, for APORs.
At an earlier hearing at the Sangguniang Bayan of Virac, an airline representative disclosed that there will be no social distancing during the twice-weekly flights, with only the last three seats set aside in case a passenger gets sick during the flight.
This prompted one councilor to suggest that the flight resumption be rejected until further notice.
“Inutil ang preparations sa airport to maintain physical distancing unless the same is practiced during the flight,” one official pointed out.
While the airline said it will provide the supposedly confidential passenger manifest, it clarified that the list does not indicate the specific address of the passenger in their destination.
It was suggested that the airline do its best to provide the manifest a day ahead together with the complete address where the passenger will stay in Catanduanes.
CAAP ready to accept flights
Earlier, the Tribune sought the assessment of CAAP Virac Manager Primo Eleda on the announced resumption of commercial flights to the capital town.
“We are always ready,” he said, adding that quarantine protocols will be observed at the airport where the Provincial Health Office (PHO) will provide personnel to handle the health checks of passengers upon arrival.
To enable the provincial COVID-19 task force to verify the documents of arrivals, CAAP has asked the airline to send a copy of the passenger manifest a day before the flight.
Only passengers with confirmed tickets, airline crew, CAAP and police security personnel, and porters will be allowed inside the arrival and departure areas as well as in the main airport lobby and check-in counters. All areas have been marked to ensure physical distancing, he added.
Those sending off or meeting passengers will be restricted to the outer parking area and will not be allowed beyond the inner security gate, Eleda stated.
People with disability (PWD) and the elderly, however, will be assisted in entering the pre-departure area.
Passengers with numerous bags will have to wait for the other passengers to leave before the vehicle which will pick the bags will be allowed near the arrival area.
Protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) will be followed, with passengers to undergo 14-day quarantine if needed, he said. LGUs will pick up the passengers bound for their respective towns as per IATF guidelines.
“We must make sure the passengers already have transportation waiting for them so their arrival must be coordinated with the LGUs,” Manager Eleda stated.
CAAP Virac is in the midst of implementing improvements to its facilities, including the perimeter fence, gates, and parking area markings, as well as the construction of an office building for its CAAP Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS).
A member of the Provincial COVID-19 Task Force, however, expressed his opinion that CAAP Virac has yet to establish a procedure on how to handle the release of baggage and cargo to the passengers, particularly in view of the need to maintain physical distancing.
The arrival area is too small to comply with the distancing requirement, he underscored, as the half-full flight will probably disgorge anywhere between 60 to 80 passengers.
Aside from staging a dry run, he suggested, CAAP and the airline should conduct a dry run on the arrival and departure activities, including the handling of private vehicles that will fetch passengers, and install tents at the vacant space beside the arrival area to serve as a temporary holding area.
Another task force member recalled that the Legazpi city government ordered all passengers aboard a recent flight to be taken into quarantine, including a Catandunganon balikbayan from Canada and a doctor reporting for duty at the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC).
LGUs fear travelers would bring more COVID cases
For some time since the national government imposed the Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) in low-risk areas, some LGUs have resisted reopening their airports to commercial flights, worrying that this will bring in new COVID-19 cases.
The same fear is felt by provincial officials with regards to the plan of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to resume regular bus trips to the provinces.
Provincial Administrator Lemuel Surtida told the Tribune that an LTFRB official sought the provincial government’s comment on the possibility of reopening bus routes from Metro Manila.
He expressed doubt about the move, saying that bus operators may have difficulty implementing the same safeguards in the BHIP as it could possible allow on board persons with incomplete or fake travel documents and even pick up undocumented passengers along the way.
Earlier, the provincial government advised those who will travel to the island via private vehicles that the Tabaco City Government has set the window hours for anyone entering the city from 4 A.M. to 11 A.M. only to limit the entry and exit of people in the city.