Hotel rooms

Philippines: Hotel rooms are running out as country sees surge in Christmas travel amid mandatory quarantine

MANILA: Christmas is traditionally a time when tens of thousands of Filipino expats — known as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) — return home to spend time with family.

With the current pandemic curbs, foreign tourists are still not allowed in the Philippines. But tens of thousands of returning Filipinos are unfazed, ready to face mandatory quarantines to see loved ones at this special time of year. Quarantine is usually carried out – free of charge for OFWs – in a hotel in major cities.

Now the government is now facing a new problem: with an increase in inbound travel despite COVID, there are not enough hotel rooms left in quarantine.

Christmas quarantine: Filipino hotels converted into quarantine facilities are overflowing with travelers returning home to see loved ones this Christmas. Workers’ Welfare Administration officials demand less quarantine for fully vaccinated Filipino travelers.
Image Credit: Gulf News/Supplied

While this makes family reunions possible, it also means much shorter vacations for those who only visit loved ones once a year or even two years.

Yet tens of thousands of people are flying in quarantine. A mandatory 7-day stay in government-designated facilities – even for fully vaccinated people – is on the plane. And the airports are full of “Balikbayans” and OFW. The government spends about Php 30 million per day to house OFWs in quarantine facilities.

“I had four shots – two Sinopharm shots and two Pfizer booster doses. I also had the flu shot – all in 2021,” said Crispulo H., who recently landed from Dubai in Manila.

“This mandatory 7-day quarantine plus 14 days of home quarantine is a bit too much,” added Crispulo, who is on his fifth day of quarantine at the hotel. “I think it’s totally unnecessary, it borders on paranoia.”

Two Filipino travelers – an OFW from South Africa and a businessman from Japan – were recently confirmed carriers of the Omicron variant, the first two confirmed cases in the country. The two, like all travelers, were taken to a government quarantine facility.

$30 billion in pandemic loans

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ borrowing to finance the protracted fight against COVID-19 exceeded 1.15 trillion pesos (about $30 billion), according to the government report.

“This prolonged quarantine is completely unnecessary. I wish the government would avoid a one-size-fits-all rule,” said Crispulo, who said he had 3 PCR tests in the past 7 days, all of which came back negative. His fourth swab test in a week was performed on Sunday (December 19, 2021).

quarantine hotel

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is currently pushing for shorter quarantines for fully vaccinated OFWs, but no decision has yet been made by authorities. An OFW queue checking into a quarantine hotel in Manila.

No power, no communication

There are around 200 government-designed hotels as quarantine facilities in Manila alone, with dozens more in Cebu and Davao. Many OFWs got stuck. Typhoon Rai and its immediate aftermath canceled domestic flights to many cities in the Visayas and northern Mindanao, even as local communities sought help following extensive infrastructure damage, with at least 75 confirmed dead .

If they find ways to travel, their final destination would be areas ravaged by the typhoon, without electricity or communications, and some inundated by floodwaters. Cebu-Mactan International had been closed due to extensive damage.

Beth A., 45, who works in Dubai, had not returned home for two years. Although she lives in Manila, her flight landed in Cebu, where she was quarantined in a hotel two days before Typhoon Rai hit the central Philippine island. She is currently incommunicado.

Failed

Daniel B., a Filipino who also worked in the United Arab Emirates, left his family in typhoon-hit Surigao. He hasn’t spoken to his wife and family for two days now because the communication is cut off. Its domestic flight also remains uncertain.

The government has so far repatriated 800,000 OFW due to the pandemic – having spent some Php18bn ($360m) in the process, only to be hit by a deadly typhoon with still incalculable damage to life , property and infrastructure.

quarantine hotel

Quarantine hotels accommodating returning Filipinos are filling up fast, approaching “critical levels” according to a senior Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) official.

quarantine hotel

Image Credit: Gulf News

OWWA chief Hans Cacdac said in an interview that the number of incoming OFWs increased as Christmas approached – up to 15,000 a day. This would mean a need for 15,000 additional hotel rooms per day.

High season for Christmas travel

Given the challenge of the traditional Christmas peak travel season, the government is distributing flights and quarantines for Filipino travelers entering major cities to avoid overcrowding in Manila. But with the temporary closure of Cebu-Mactan International, other destinations must pick up the slack. As hotel rooms run out for incoming OFWS landing in Manila, it could mean quarantine outside the capital for many Christmas travellers.

“We are almost 14,000 to 15,000 – that’s why we are looking for quarantine facilities outside the NCR (National Capital Region, referring to the whole of Manila),” Cacdac said. “So we’re back in the 4A region…we’re covering the whole range of hotels. We have to quarantine 5-star hotels because we don’t have enough budget hotel rooms,” Cacdac added.

The official admitted that with hotels full and OFWs kept away from their families despite already being at home, frustrations arise.

The OWWA official said he is seeking fewer quarantine days or removing it altogether for fully vaccinated inbound Filipino travelers.

Regarding repatriations, the government has said it will continue to repatriate migrant workers who wish to return home but are unable to do so due to difficulties due to the pandemic.