The Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has given his government a week to process some 24,000 repatriated Filipino workers stuck for weeks on cruise ships or in coronavirus quarantine, for them to finally go home.
Thousands are aboard cruise vessels off Manila Bay or stuck in hotels and crowded health facilities, some growing frustrated having tested negative for Covid-19 and completed the mandated 14-day quarantine.
Government workers spray disinfectant on luggage of disembarking Filipino overseas workers at a seaport in Cebu, Philippines. Image credit EPA-EFE
Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs, are breadwinners and a key support base of Duterte. Their more than $30 billions of annual remittances is a key driver of the Philippine economy, sustaining millions of people within the Filipino population.
"The president said they can use all government resources and whatever means of transportation - bus, aeroplane, ships - to bring the OFWs home," Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, announced on Monday.
The government is braced for hundreds of thousands more workers to return home, due to job losses, as the pandemic devastated national economies worldwide - blaming the delays on a testing holdup.
The cruise ship cluster off Manila Bay numbered 29 vessels today, none with passengers aboard. They contain thousands of Filipino crews still awaiting coronavirus tests - many no longer receiving salaries and venting frustrations having already met conditions for release.
The crew affirmed information was scarce and prolonged isolation was taking a toll on their mental and emotional health.
Philippine Coast Guard staff hold a meeting inside the Carnival Spirit cruise ship docked at Manila Bay's anchorage, Philippines. Philippine Coast Guard handout via Reuters
Jex Bañega, a receptionist on Carnival Corp's Pacific Explorer, said he was being well cared for, but after 35 days of quarantine, his cabin felt more like in a prison cell.
"We're only thinking of going home to our families. The comfort of our homes is different," Banega admitted.
More than 30,000 overseas Filipinos have returned home and 515 of 27,000 tested for the virus resulted positive as of May 20, authorities said.
The Philippines has now more than 14,000 cases, of which 868 passed away.