At least 140 Filipinos stranded in Europe due to the travel ban amid the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant would be repatriated to the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sara Lou Arriola said the DFA is set to facilitate two “Bayanihan Flights” on 10 December and 13 December to assist the affected passengers. Their transport point, she added, would be in The Netherlands.
“We’re going to have two Bayanihan flights in The Netherlands. For the 10 December flight, we coordinated with a manning agency to have the stranded Filipinos in one flight with the seafarers but the costs would be shouldered by the affected passengers,” she said in a radio interview.
“The 13 December schedule, meanwhile, would be a humanitarian flight. We have to gather Filipinos all over Europe to ride this plane. We’re urging all of our kababayans to contact our nearest embassy or consulate to make the arrangements,” she added.
The Philippine borders closed for several countries in Europe after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) expanded the nations under its Red List or areas considered as “high-risk” for Covid-19.
Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium were added to the list which previously included South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.
This means inbound international travelers coming from the said list are barred from entering the country regardless of their vaccination status with the exemption of Filipinos returning to the country via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation and Bayanihan Flights.
Arriola further said the Philippine government is exerting efforts to help 49 Filipinos in South Africa who wish to return home.
She, however, admitted encountering a “difficulty” in coordinating since many countries have closed their borders for the country which first reported the Omicron strain to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We’re having difficulty in facilitating Bayanihan flights in South Africa because there are no hubs that allow planes to enter. And if we’re talking about Africa, its travel takes almost the whole day and there are no direct flights,” she said.
Following its detection in November, the highly-transmissible Omicron strain is now reported in the United States, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.
The WHO has warned countries that blanket travel bans will not prevent its spread as more countries rushed to impose curbs and travel bans especially to countries in Southern Africa.