Coronavirus Pandemic

UAE: Expats excited to go home as Philippines lifts travel ban

SM Ayaz Zakir and Kirstin Bernabe/Dubai
Filed on September 4, 2021
Passengers of an repatriation flights to the Philippines at the airport. — File photo

Some of them are worried about the lack of clarity in Covid-19 quarantine procedures

After nearly four months, the Philippines is finally lifting its ban on travellers from the UAE, it was announced on Saturday.

Starting September 6, the Philippine government will ease the current restrictions for passengers flying in from the UAE, as well as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

“International travellers coming from the abovementioned countries shall, however, comply with the appropriate entry, testing and quarantine protocols, depending on the country’s approved ‘listing’,” Roque said.

The Philippines had placed the ban on travellers from the UAE on May 15, leaving thousands of expats and tourists stranded. Since then, the Philippine government have been mounting repatriation flights to take home Filipinos in distress, those with expired visas, medical patients and other expats facing emergencies.

Though restrictions have been eased, airlines are still awaiting clarity on travel procedures.

A spokesperson from Philippine Airlines told Khaleej Times: “We are still waiting for the guidelines and travel SOP for passengers from the UAE. While the restrictions have been lifted, it is unclear if the UAE will fall under red, yellow, or green category of travel safety.”

Nevertheless, repatriation flights continue without a hitch, the airline official added. “Quarantine requirements of inbound passengers will play a role in the future demand for travel in this sector. We are still waiting, hopefully, we should have some more clarity by (today).”

For some Filipino expats who haven’t seen their families for over a year now because of the pandemic, the news comes as a big relief.

“I really want to spend Christmas with my family back home. All the news about the travel ban extensions over the past months had been disheartening — now, we can finally celebrate,” said Gwen Viernes, a Dubai resident who works as managing partner at Privato Holiday Home.

“My family and I literally jumped for joy over video call, when we realised that we can be together this Christmas,” said the expat, who used to go home nearly every quarter for her elderly parents.

Expat Ira Shelleen Somoza is also excited as the lifting of travel ban meant she could be with her daughter on her fifth birthday.

“I never missed my daughter’s birthday, until last year when Covid-19 hit. That day in 2020 was depressing for me. I already missed a lot of things — from her first day in school to many Christmases,” said Somoza.

“This year, because of the ban, I thought I won’t be able to make it to her birthday again. Thank God, it was lifted. I can’t wait to surprise my daughter Yassmien,” she said.

Gillian Cortez, a sales executive, has not seen his parents for the last three years. “I came to the UAE three years ago and since then, things were so uncertain that I was not able to visit my hometown. This news has come as a relief but more clarity will allow us to plan our vacation.”

If the UAE falls under the ‘yellow’ category, travellers — regardless of vaccination status — will have to spend 14 days in quarantine. They will have to stay at a government-approved hotel for the first 10 days and the rest will be continued at home. They also have to take a PCR test on the seventh day.

For expat Carl Duffrey Bartolome, if he were to spend two weeks in quarantine, he wouldn’t take a flight.

“We will be wasting our vacation leave because of the quarantine. They should consider that most of us here in the UAE are already vaccinated,” said Bartolome, who had completed not only his Sinopharm vaccination but also his Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot.

“Of course, I want to spend time with my family, but given the inefficient Covid response back home, in addition to ever-changing protocols, I have to cancel all plans,” he added.

The Philippines’ total Covid cases hit two million on September 1, and as on Friday, more than 157,000 are sick with the virus.

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