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DFA urges OFWs in 3 Ebola-hit African states to come home

Department of Foreign Affairs building. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Department of Foreign Affairs building. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos in three Ebola virus-stricken West African states have been urged by the Philippine government to come home even if the government has assessed their chances of contracting the deadly disease to be “small.”

The government’s call on Filipino workers to opt for voluntary repatriation was aired on Wednesday by Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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Interviewed over ANC’s Headstart program, Jose explained why the government thought the chances were small for Filipinos to contract the Ebola virus.

According to Jose, there are no health care workers among the 600 to 700 Filipinos now in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the countries that have been hardest hit by the Ebola virus, which has claimed over 5,000 lives since 2013.

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Health workers have been among the victims of Ebola since their work entailed them to be exposed to patients with the disease.

Most Filipinos employed in the three countries are professionals and skilled workers like miners whose work would not expose them to the disease, according to Jose.

More importantly, he said, employers of these workers have assured them of strict protocols to ensure their safety.

“So the risk of being infected is very small,” Jose said.

He, however, added that the government wanted these Filipinos to come home to eliminate any chance of them getting infected.

“Our primary objective is to reduce the risks of nationals being exposed or coming into contact with the Ebola virus and of course we would like to prevent the entry of the virus to the Philippines,” he said.

Jose said the DFA was just awaiting word from other agencies handling the preparations to accommodate the returning Filipinos before raising the alert status to level 3, which would signal voluntary repatriation.

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In a news briefing later, Jose said that the Response Rapid Team that would assist Filipinos availing of the voluntary repatriation has been deployed in two batches last week.

He said that the alert level status would be raised after the identification by the Department of a quarantine facility for returning Filipinos.

Jose said just like the 133 UN peacekeepers from Liberia who came home last week, the new returnees would undergo a 21-day quarantine.

The UN peacekeepers are currently housed in Caballo Island.

Meanwhile, Jose said it was the DOH’s call to allow the visit of acting Health Secretary Janette Garin and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang at the Caballo Island where the UN peacekeepers have been quarantined. The visit, wherein Garin and Catapang came without protective suits, has been widely criticized as this went against safety protocols.

“The DOH is an expert on this. I’m sure they are fully aware of what they’ re doing and they have taken into account the possible implication of their actions,” Jose also said.

As far as the DFA understood it, the peacekeepers were only subjected to a quarantine upon their arrival and not when they were still in Liberia.

Before they left Liberia, the peacekeepers underwent screening to see if they exhibited symptoms of the disease.

He said when the peacekeepers left, they were “in good health” and none of them tested positive for the Ebola virus.

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TAGS: Armed Forces of the Philippines, Caballo Island, Charles Jose, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Health, disease, Disease Control and Prevention, Ebola virus, Global Nation, Gregorio Pio Catapang, Guinea, Health, Janette Garine, Liberia, outbreak, Overseas Filipino workers, overseas work, quarantine, Sierra Leone, United Nations peacekeepers, voluntary repatriation
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