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Overseas Filipino workers left frustrated as Gulf nations stay off Philippines’ COVID-19 green list

DUBAI: The Philippine government is to ease coronavirus disease (COVID-19) quarantine rules relating to green-list countries, allowing millions of its citizens to return home for the first time in two years.

But despite the announcement, overseas Filipino workers based in the Gulf region have been left frustrated by the continued exclusion of the nations they work in from the Philippines’ green list.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on Wednesday updated protocols for fully vaccinated Filipinos and foreign nationals traveling from green-listed countries, doing away with mandatory quarantine as long as they present negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test results within 72 hours before their departure.

OFWs must also produce a national digital certificate from the foreign government where they were vaccinated to validate their COVID-19 inoculation status.

The Philippines’ pandemic task force previously directed fully vaccinated individuals from green-list countries to undergo facility-based quarantine until the release of their negative RT-PCR test taken on their fifth day upon arrival.

A number of OFWs, who would only give their first names, spoke to Arab News about the latest developments.

Roselyn, an office worker from Abu Dhabi, said: “I want to go home (to the Philippines), but I cannot understand why fully vaccinated Filipinos like me still have to take long quarantine periods because the UAE – which has now very low daily COVID-19 cases – remains excluded from the green list.”

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Melissa, who teaches at a government college in Bahrain, said: “I have plans to go home this December, but the short two-week semestral break makes it not advisable to make the trip since Bahrain remains out of the green list.”

Countries and jurisdictions on the Philippines’ green list include American Samoa, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Cayman Islands, Chad, mainland China, New Zealand, Niger, Taiwan, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

Other countries and jurisdictions, including those in the Middle East, not on the green list are automatically included on the yellow list – which requires institutional quarantine. Only Bermuda is on the red list, from where travelers are prohibited entry.

Dr. Shammah, an optometry doctor working in Kuwait, said she was optimistic that the Philippines would soon lift travel restrictions for OFWs in the Gulf. “There is already about 99 percent herd immunity (in Kuwait) and Kuwait is now on phase five of booster shots for residents and citizens,” she added.

Marge, an office manager for an Abu Dhabi-based engineering consultancy, said other countries with far worse COVID-19 situations than the Philippines had opened up to travelers.

“I would really like to know why the Philippine government continues to exclude the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries from its green list when COVID-19 cases in these countries have drastically gone down.

“Why are they very strict in implementing travel protocols for OFWs from the Middle East? Some have not gone home for years. Imagine the effect on the mental well-being of Filipinos who must deal not only with the strict travel protocols but also expensive flight tickets and flights getting cancelled multiple times,” she added.

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And she pointed out that her partner, who works in Saudi Arabia, had seen round-trip flight tickets from Dammam to Manila rise to around SR8,000 ($2,133).

“The Philippine government should heed the clamor of OFWs, especially those from the Middle East, as most of them are not only fully vaccinated but have taken booster shots,” she said.


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