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OFWs who died of virus to be flown home

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has backed the move to repatriate the remains of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia who died of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the IATF “supported the decision of the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs in bringing home the remains of OFWs who died of COVID-19.”

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This was after the body met on Thursday to draft new recommendations to President Duterte on the prevailing community quarantine in the country.

The government initially rejected the repatriation of the OFWs’ remains due to risks of transmitting the virus.

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Health protocols recommend cremation for the remains of Filipinos who die of COVID-19 abroad, but cremation is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.

The IATF’s initial plan was to have the bodies buried in Saudi Arabia. However, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III appealed for repatriation after the kin of the deceased OFWs in Saudi Arabia pleaded with the government.

Earlier, Bello said there were 257 remains of OFWs in Saudi Arabia that need to be brought home. Of this figure, 107 were COVID-19 patients while others died of natural causes.

Last Sunday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia gave the Philippines 72 hours to retrieve the remains and bring them home.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said it is working out the repatriation of the OFWs’ remains.

Nearly a week after announcing that the OFWs who have died of COVID-19 would be buried in the Gulf state, Bello said on Friday that the IATF approved of flying into the country “early next month” the remains of the 152 migrant workers.

Change of mind

As of writing, Bello has yet to respond to the question of what made the IATF change its mind, especially that Roque said on Sunday that these OFWs would be buried in Saudi Arabia in deference to the “host country’s local customs.”

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But in a television interview, he said that the Department of Health was told by the World Health Organization it was “safe to bring home even those OFWs who died of COVID-19, of course after observing all the safety protocols.”

Earlier, Saudi Arabia gave the Philippine government a 72-hour deadline to repatriate the remains of migrant workers who have died of various causes. The deadline has since been extended on humanitarian grounds.

The labor chief said that based on their initial preparations, there would be two chartered flights for the dead OFWs—one for those who died of COVID-19 and the other for the 149 who died of other causes.

“The bodies will be transported from various points to Riyadh and Jeddah, and will be flown back to the country by the second week of July,” Bello said in a statement.

Upon arrival in the country, the remains of those who died of COVID-19 will immediately be sent to the crematorium of choice of the family or the receiving local government. The families of the OFWs who died of other causes would be allowed to fetch the remains of their loved ones at the airport.

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TAGS: coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19 Philippines, health crisis, King Salman, lockdown, OFW, pandemic, quarantine, Saudi
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