Thousands of Filipino workers are being sent home by global cruise ship operators amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the ACTS-OFW Coalition of Organizations said on Friday.
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There is “widespread uncertainty” now among Filipino staff on short-term contracts with cruise ships, considering cruise operations around the world “have virtually ground to a halt,” said ACTS-OFW chairperson Aniceto Bertiz III.
About 400,000 of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers are Filipino, and in 2018, these workers sent $6 billion back to their country in remittances, according to a New York Times article in November 2019.
In the bigger picture, the World Travel and Tourism Council said up to 50 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector, in which millions of Filipinos are employed, are at risk due to the global pandemic.
Latest figures from WTTC show that global travel could be adversely impacted by up to 25 percent in 2020.
“This is the equivalent to a loss of three months of global travel. This could lead to a corresponding reduction in jobs of between 12 and 14 percent,” Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and CEO, said in a statement.
Bertiz said British-American cruise operator Carnival Corp. has suspended all voyages for 60 days and is sending home all its multinational crew, who are mostly Filipinos.
“More than half of the crew on Carnival’s 18 cruise ships are Filipinos earning an average of $1,400 a month on nine-month contracts, and they are being sent home upon disembarkation,” Bertiz, a former party-list lawmaker, said.
Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. S.A. has also temporarily ceased operations of MSC Cruises, another a huge employer of Filipinos, he added.
ACTS-OFW is counting on the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Social Security System to provide financial assistance and unemployment insurance to the returning cruise ship staff, Bertiz said.
Countries around the world have blocked the entry of cruise ships, forcing operators to stop voyages. They have been deemed highly vulnerable to COVID-19 because about a third of their passengers are 60 years old and above, the group noted.
Meanwhile, major local airlines have started canceling domestic flights to and from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in support of the government’s one-month air travel restriction to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Cielo Villaluna, Philippine Airlines spokesperson, said 65 of the company’s domestic round-trip flights daily between Manila and domestic outlaying stations would be affected by the suspension of domestic travel to and from Manila, which takes effect Sunday, March 15, and will last until April 14.
The flag carrier urged their affected customers to rebook their flight to a new date after April 14 with no rebooking fee; refund the full cost of the ticket with no extra fee; or reroute their ticket on the same fare class.
Villaluna urged holders of tickets issued by travel agents to go to them for their rebooking needs.
International and domestic flights on routes to and from Cebu, Clark, and Davao”•other than Manila”•will continue to operate.
Cebu Pacific Air, on the other hand, received rebooking and cancellation requests from their passengers due to concerns over COVID-19.
CEB spokesperson Charo Lagamon said the airline offered free rebooking for passengers traveling to Philippines and international destinations from March 10 to April 30, 2020.
She said new flights booked from March 10 to April 30 (regardless of travel date and route) can avail of CEB Flexi for free. CEB Flexi enables travelers to rebook their flights up to two times.
Air Asia also canceled its domestic flights to and from NAIA beginning Sunday.
The airline, however, said flights not bound for Manila out of other AirAsia’s hubs in the Philippines—Clark, Cebu, and Kalibo”•will continue normal operations.
The Manila International Airport Authority, meanwhile, has stepped up the cleaning and sanitizing of the NAIA terminals.
Staff from the Bureau of Quarantine will screen every arriving passenger using a thermal scanner. Anyone who has a fever will immediately be isolated from the other passengers and checked by airport physicians.
Passengers diagnosed with the virus will immediately be brought to either the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila or the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa for quarantine and treatment.
Under a community quarantine declared by President Rodrigo Duterte, all domestic land, sea and air travel to and from Manila will be canceled starting March 15.
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Local carriers said they are still waiting for the final instructions regarding air cargo.
Under the community quarantine rules, overseas Filipino workers who wish to go to their respective provinces after arriving at NAIA must stay in Metro Manila until the ban on domestic travel is lifted, Civil Aeronautics Board chief legal officer Wyrlou Samodio said Friday.
The government will not shoulder their expenses, he said.
Filipino workers from the provinces, however, will be allowed to leave NAIA to return to their work abroad.
“International flights are allowed. They could go back,” Samodio said.
The COVID-19 alert system was raised to Code Red sub-level 2 on Thursday, as the number of confirmed cases climbed to 52.
Filipino health workers returning to Dammam and Riyadh will be allowed to board PAL flights to those destinations as a Saudi travel ban that includes the Philippines exempts them.
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