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Filipinos in the UAE put off their home-bound plans Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Several Filipino expats were forced to cancel their planned trips back home after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire national capital region or Metro Manila under “community quarantine” for 30 days, beginning March 15, to prevent the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus (Covid-19).

Some were supposed to attend family reunions and weddings while others had planned to celebrate important milestones in their children’s lives such as school graduation.

One Filipino dad, Dubai resident Florante Bambe, 29, told Gulf News he bought a ticket a couple of months ago for a trip on Saturday to attend his daughter’s school graduation but had to rebook his flight at a later date.

“There was no announcement of restriction on international flight between Dubai and Manila, but I still have to travel to Butuan City (in Mindanao) upon my arrival in Manila on Sunday, which is the start of the lockdown,” said Bambe, adding: “I don’t want to get stuck in Manila”

Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

On Thursday, President Duterte declared the suspension of all domestic travel – by land, air and sea – to and from Metro Manila from March 15 (12.01am Philippine time) until April 14.

He also suspended classes in all school levels and government work in the executive branch until April 12.

The announcement came after the Covid-19 alert level in the Philippines was raised to Code Red Sublevel 2, following domestic transmission of the virus, which has killed five people there and infected 53. Even Duterte, who at 74 is in a vulnerable age group for the virus, underwent coronavirus testing because he has been in contact with some officials who met people positive with coronavirus.

“Most Filipinos going home for vacation in March and early April have already postpone their trips,” Sid Rivera, marketing manager Al Qadi Tourism, told Gulf News. Some like Arnold, who live in Palawan, have rebooked a trip to Cebu City and from there he will go to his hometown.

Meanwhile, Philippine budget airline, Cebu Pacific, told Gulf News they are still “awaiting official advise from (Philippine) government regulators.

“In the meantime, should passengers wish to forego travel, they may opt to take any of the following options: Free rebooking (change fee is waived but fare difference may apply) or get a travel fund, where the full cost of the ticket is put in a travel fund that can be redeemed within 180 days and can be used for bookings within 12 months,” according to Cebu Pacific.

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Keep calm, kababayans

In a statement sent to Gulf News, Philippine consul-general Paul Raymund Cortes said: “In the interest of public health and safety and being responsible citizens, I urge our kababayans (countrymen) not to worry as our leader and highest official, President Duterte, and our government are implementing strategies to control and mitigate the further spread of Covid-19 in the Philippines.

“Rest assured that our government is prepared to implement its no domestic land, air, and sea travel to and from Metro Manila and the other guidelines as mentioned in the President’s address to the nation last night. Continue trusting our authorities as they impose regulations for everyone’s well-being

Let’s all keep praying that our families and our communities remain safe in the weeks to come and that this crisis ends soonest,” Cortes concluded.