Pinoys in Europe cancel travel plans to PH following Metro Manila lockdown
By Gene Alcantara, London
Filipinos in Europe are canceling travel plans to the Philippines following the lockdown in Metro Manila. The lockdown involves all foreigners from Covid-19 infected European countries from entering the country except residents, Philippine passport holders, their foreign spouses and children and diplomats from March 15-April 14.
The lockdown, or as the government calls it “community quarantine”, was imposed after the country raised the alert level to Code Red Sub-level 2. Under the order, all land, domestic air and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila will be suspended from March 15 affecting some 12-13 million Filipinos living and working in the 16 cities and town of NCR.
For EuroPinoys, the lockdown means those coming from Covid-19 countries in Europe will not be allowed to enter the country and those who are allowed to enter will be placed under a 14-day quarantine. The quarantine will make it difficult for them to reach their final destinations especially if they will be in the country for a short stay. The travel ban, however, will only be enforced at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila but not in other international airports in the country such as the Clark International Airport and the international airports in Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao.
Philippine embassies in Europe have already issued respective travel advisories on travel to the Philippines within the lockdown period. The WHO has in fact referred to Europe now as the epicenter of coronavirus. In London, the embassy released a Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Advisory implementing an expanded travel ban that “will prevent individuals (in the UK and Ireland) coming from countries with the localized transmission of the virus from entering the Philippines.”
The embassy in Norway has also issued a similar advisory while the Philippine embassy in Spain recommends to all Spanish nationals and foreign nationals from Spain to “postpone travel to the PH as they may not be allowed entry.” In Berlin, the embassy urged travelers to check travel restrictions in countries they are traveling to.
The embassy in Rome has also warned that those traveling from Italy are “required to present a medical certificate issued by competent medical authorities within 48 hours immediately preceding departure, signifying that the traveler has tested negative for Covid-19 except for Philippine residents and their family.”
Following the ban, Filipinos in Europe found themselves making tough calls about their forthcoming trips to the Philippines to avoid complications such as the possibility of being barred entry, undergoing quarantine or not being able to catch connecting flights to regional destinations and be stranded and face difficulties to fly back home to Europe.
Norway travel ban for health workers
Two kababayans have to cancel their trips, not only because of the lockdown but also due to Norwegian government ban on travel for health workers, job-related or otherwise. Such is the case with health workers Chona Abantao Hansson and Mae Ann Mahinay Coco.
Hansson said she is travelling to the Philippines next week but had to postpone her three-week vaction in Bohol.
She hopes to be able to claim refund for her tickets from Qatar Airlines from insurance.
"Dalawa lang kami ng asawa ko (ang bibiyahe), sa Manila kami (lalapag at) diretso sana sa Bohol. Pero as of yesterday ang mga helsepersonell (health worker) dito sa Norway di puwede magtravel sa utlandet (abroad)."
Coco found herself in a similar dilemma. She was supposed to travel on 16 April for 14 days to visit family in Sicogon Island, Iloilo via Turkish Airlines until told of the government travel ban on health workers. When asked how she sees the ban on health workers, she replied,
“para sa akin po, pasyente po and family muna. Ayoko po na ako ang maging dahilan na magkasakit ang pasyente ko. Lalo na ang karamihan sa kanila ay matatanda.”
Even if they will both be allowed to travel by the Norwegian government, their trips will still be met by complications as they are from Norway and the lockdown will force Coco to spend most of her stay under quarantine and Hansson will only have a week to travel around.
Though not affected by the travel ban on health workers, Anita (not her real name), decided to advice a family member who wil be travelling to Norway on March 30 to cancel the trip. “Kinansel na namin kasi di rin naman nila mae-enjoy ang pagbisita dito at we are putting them at risk sa pagbiyahe." Even if they pushed through, stricter controls at airports in Norway ban passengers from countries except Denmark, Finland, Iceland or Sweden from entry.
Wedding plans on hold
In the United Kingdom, wedding plans for Raul Polinag and his wife Victoria will have to wait. They and their children were scheduled to get married in mid-April in Tagaytay in time for their 27th wedding anniversary as they only had a civil ceremony from before. Now, they had to cancel their plans after they got wind of a reported lockdown on commercial operations in Tagaytay from mid-March until end of June.
Polinag is also concerned that pushing through with the trip will mean travel complications for his family. “As I am the only one with dual passports, my family might get affected by the ban. We have already spent so much, but what can we do? Anyway, let's hope and pray di na mag-escalate pa lalo na sa Pinas,” he said.
Family holiday canceled
Laila Orbon Remer from Germany reacted with shock and dismay when she found out that she had to cancel her holiday trip to the Philippines due to the lockdown. She was to travel to the Philippines on March 18 from Dusseldorf via Qatar Airlines and will be staying until April 18. Her husband was set to join her on March 25 and they will be visiting several cities in the country including Siargao, Cebu, Iloilo, and Zambales.
Remer is from Ahlen, Nordrhein in Westfalen in Germany, an area that has a high Covid-19 incidence. Since Remer is a German passport holder she will be barred from entry as she is from a European country covered by the ban.
Disappointed with the sudden turn of events, Remer admitted she is not an expert to question the decision on the ban. She admitted however that the ban may be justified as “precaution is necessary.”
Disappointed with trip cancellation
Nhelisa Comia also felt bad about her family trip that had to be canceled due to the ban. She and her family from Barcelona, Spain had been looking forward to their trip to the Philippines on April 15. She was supposed to be traveling with her husband and 7-year old son, Jacob, via Singapore Airlines to Manila and onward to Bicol. However, their plans to stay in the country until May 28 had to be cancelled altogether. Before the ban, they were still hopeful that their trip will not be affected as flights from Singapore were then not subjected to restricted entry.
Comia said the cancellation of their trip weighed heavily on their young son.
“Sobrang na-disappoint po sya at umiyak po kasi matagal na po nyang gusto umuwi ng Pilipinas. Sobrang naligalig sya at nalungkot,” she added.
If things had been different, Suzet Cabalu from Rome is flying home on April 9. Her employer gave her leave for two weeks to visit family in Tarlac. That plan had to be scrapped now due to the ban. “Siyempre po malungkot pero the best way na gawin is sumunod na lang para di naman sa safety natin yun,” she said.
She is also worried that even if she is allowed to enter the country as a Filipino passport-holder, “baka kung sakali mahihirapan pa akong makabalik dito,” she added.
Stranded in Manila
Meanwhile, Jen Dimaano Senicolas also from Rome found herself in the middle of a travel nightmare. She and her children, Charlynanne and Khienmichaela are now stranded in Manila after being informed her connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to Rome had been cancelled. Her flight from Manila to Abu Dhabi on April 1 from NAIA, is however still confirmed. They had an earlier departure date in March but decided to re-book it to April 1 to let things calm down in Italy but found out ,in retrospect, that things have instead gotten worse.
“Nakakapanlambot din nun nalaman na cancel nga kasi naka-impake na kami. Diyan (sa Rome) din sana magbi-birthday si Anne. Nakabili na rin ako ng mga pang-give away sana na dadalhin diyan na pang birthday ni Anne,” Senicolas lamented.
For now, she was advised by her travel agent to monitor the changes on her flight at least three days before her departure. She is still concerned if she will be able to leave the country by April.
While the ban may have caused a great deal of emotional and financial costs to travelers like them, they all understand that these travel restrictions are necessary and part of pandemic protection measures to curb further Covid-19 transmission.
With reports from Italy, Rome, Spain, Germany and Norway.