New rule lets manning agencies find COVID-19 testing labs for OFWs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 4) — Manning agencies can now coordinate with laboratories on their own to test overseas Filipino workers for coronavirus infection.

This is under the new rule discussed by Vince Dizon, Deputy Chief Implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19 in an online media briefing on Thursday.

"Ang protocol natin ay medyo nagbago ng kaunti lalo na para sa mga OFWs natin na mayroong mga kumpanya o tinatawag nating manning agencies," Dizon said.

[Translation: Our protocol is slightly changed especially for OFWs under manning agencies.]

"Ang mga manning agencies ay maaari nang kumontrata ng kanilang sariling laboratoryo para sa testing," he added.

[Translation: Manning agencies can now strike an agreement with laboratories on their own for the testing.]

The announcement comes in the wake of the temporary suspension of swab testing of OFWs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administrator Hans Cacdac confirmed on Thursday that the testing was stopped this week due to lack of swab kits.

Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday said the Philippine Coast Guard already received additional specimen collection kits, and that the testing of OFWs arriving at NAIA will continue.

The collected specimen are delivered to licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories, which Dizon said now totals 52. Thirty-three are government testing facilities while 19 are private laboratories.

OFWs are required to undergo mandatory quarantine in government-accredited facilities, but thousands of them were stuck for more than 14 days in Metro Manila due to delays in the release of their test results and certification.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier gave an ultimatum for the immediate release of coronavirus-free OFWs from quarantine facilities. More than 25,000 have been sent home as of Tuesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said.

The government aims to further expand coronavirus testing in other regions so OFWs can undergo quarantine and be swabbed in their hometowns.

Meanwhile, Cacdac clarified that the people who were seen sleeping at NAIA were not OFWs but "locally stranded individuals" who had plans of going abroad. Cacdac said their recruitment agencies should be held accountable for abandoning them.