2 sweeper flights bring 331 South Cotabateños home

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 01 June) — At least 331 more residents of South Cotabato province who were stranded in Metro Manila and Cebu due to the heightened community quarantine against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) returned home over the weekend through two sweeper flights commissioned by the local government.

South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said Monday the special flights were the first two of a series being arranged by the provincial government to fly home locally-stranded individuals (LSIs) from the area in parts of Luzon and the Visayas.

He said the first Cebu Pacific Air sweeper flight from Manila arrived before 1 p.m. Saturday at the city international airport with 229 passengers.

The second flight from Cebu arrived around 2:50 p.m. Sunday with 102 adults and two infants onboard.

Tamayo said the provincial government spent around PHP2.2 million for the two chartered Cebu Pacific flights or PHP1.1 million each and asked the returning LSIs “who can afford” to contribute PHP4,500 each for the fare.

“But there were some who really can’t afford to pay so we did not oblige them,” he said in a press conference in Koronadal City.

He said they were still arranging additional sweeper flights, with the next possibly coming from Iloilo and its neighboring provinces.

The local government may charter a passenger ship should the number of LSIs from Western Visayas will exceed the target, he said.

Hundreds of returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) already arrived in the province since last week through the “Hatid Probinsya” program of the national government.

The provincial government also started last week ferrying LSIs stranded in other regions in Mindanao through chartered buses.

“This is a massive effort and we’re targeting to bring home all these stranded individuals by June 5,” Tamayo said.

He assured that the local government strictly complied with the health and safety protocols on the handling of returning LSIs and OFWs in line with the COVID-19 pandemic.

All returning residents were subjected to proper health screening upon arrival and now undergoing the mandatory 14-day quarantine in designated isolation facilities within the province’s 10 towns and lone city.

Due to the continuing arrival of the returning OFWs and LSIs, Tamayo issued Executive Order No. 30 on Monday, extending the modified general community quarantine in the area until June 15.

The order lifted the movement restrictions for residents within the province and allowed more businesses to reopen but its borders remain closed, especially to public transportation.

“Although we were already considered low-risk to COVID-19, we need to remain vigilant because some of the returning residents were from areas with sustained local transmission,” he said.

Tamayo added that necessary measures have been put in place, especially in terms of treatment and contact-tracing, in case some of the returning OFWs and LSIs will turn out positive of the disease. (MindaNews)