Flying to Manila as an OFW during COVID-19? Here's what you need to know and more

DATE OF ARRIVAL: AUGUST 19, 2020 | We were pleasantly surprised at how short our time was at the airport, as we knew some people who came home three weeks ahead of us who shared some horrifying experiences. Those who traveled back to the Philippines during the first few months of the lockdown in Manila had some of the worst ordeals. Plenty of people online shared their sentiments and left comments on appointed government agencies’ social media accounts who stressed their grievances. A lot of people got stranded for weeks just waiting for their PCR-test results (several needing or being requested to get tested again). A lot stressed their outrage with the facilities they were brought to, as some didn’t offer the best living conditions. I remember reading about an Overseas Filipino Worker who was quarantined at a cheap motel with no windows. I rarely complain, but I don’t think I could stand being cooped inside a lodging without seeing the sun or any sign of life outside my room. It would completely set me on a panic attack, which would probably hurt me more mentally. 

I went to the bathroom to pee to prepare myself for our impending time at the airport. I wouldn’t want to get stuck in long lines and feel like I’m about to burst from the seams. That would be too embarrassing and stressful for me to handle. We were warned ahead of time, so we braced for the worst.


As soon as we wore our cheap face shields (which had an awful blurry plastic screen), we walked towards the first line at the airport - a temperature check. The staff from the Bureau of Quarantine was there waiting to receive our yellow health cards. We had to remove our face shields for a second to check our temperature. We were also asked to write an L on the top right corner of the yellow form to help identify that we’re land-based OFWs. There was a briefing over the plane’s intercom to help acquaint us with the airport procedures after exiting the plane.


The second line was the Philippine Red Cross briefing where a quick discussion took place. It looked like there were plenty of passengers to serve, but the process was unexpectedly fast, so the numbers dwindled in no time. There were also social distancing notes implemented on seats and an ample number of counters for fast-tracking procedures. It wasn’t long until I had my time at the PRC counter designated for land-based overseas Filipino workers. The Philippine coast guard who was assigned to me immediately screened my PRC QR code from my phone through the glass partition. Registering online for this ahead of time saved us time. People who didn’t register were asked to stay aside to fill up forms before proceeding to the testing sites. Now it didn’t take long for my details to be captured, as the QR code already saved my information. And in just a few minutes, the PCG posted a barcode sticker at the back of my passport and handed me another three for the swab testing counter. 


I was bracing for a horrible experience at the swab testing counter, but nothing prepared me for the pain that I was about to endure. The lady behind the clear counter tore off a new pack containing a long cotton bud stick. I politely removed my face shield and face mask and lifted my head upwards so that my nose faced her. She slipped her gloved hand outside this tiny hole, the type you see when premature babies are in the NICU, like an incubator’s hole. Anyway, the swab was fast, but it was the longest three seconds of my life! All I could remember was that her move was quick, but her hands were heavy. It gave me an uncomfortable experience. Just when I thought she had reached the depth that she needed to reach, the stick was probably just halfway through because she swabbed even deeper. I choked a little. I thought that would be the first and last time she would take samples from me, not until she grabbed another fresh cotton bud from her stash. I immediately uttered, “one more?!” to which she nodded. Ugh, the second one felt much worse. But that didn’t end there. She reached for another fresh pack and then asked to open my mouth. She then swabbed my throat until I had no choice but to gag and cough out my loudest. Oh, it was the worst! I was teary-eyed soon after that excruciating experience.


The line at immigration was short. Well, there was barely anyone in line as most of the passengers that came from swabbing flocked in corners and posts (yes, no social distancing at this point), busy filling up arrival cards, which we got to answer right away. After that, we handed the card along with our passport to the Immigration Officer, removed our face masks for a few seconds to allow the officer to capture our picture, and then off we went.


Our next stop was OWWA, which was on the ground floor (the same level where the conveyor belts are). We were advised to fill-up another white form that we submitted to designated staff at the counter. They checked our passports and asked us for proof of work abroad. I was under my husband’s visa (he was my sponsor), but I was allowed to work in Dubai using his sponsorship, as the company that hired me last year wasn’t too keen on providing me with a visa. The male staff at the counter just mentioned that I was his dependent so I could join him at the same hotel quarantine facility. But to ensure them of my work abroad, I showed him a copy of my work ID to prove that I was an OFW. We were there for just a few minutes as they were quick with verifying our details. Soon after, they instructed us we were going to be quarantined at Fairmont Hotel, Makati, and that a designated bus would wait for us outside the airport. As soon as they relayed those details, they handed out complimentary bottled water and a rice meal in a box for dinner. After that, we located our luggage, and off we went outside the terminal. It was already 11:20 PM when we boarded the bus.


We spent around 1 hour and 10 minutes inside the airport, while we spent another hour inside the bus. There weren’t many passengers inside the vehicle as officials instructed us to take one seat apart. I had the right row all to myself, which was a good thing because it provided enough space for my Cabinzero backpack. Anyhow, while we were waiting for the go signal to depart the airport, two more white forms were passed for us to fill in our details again. And by the time the third white form (for the hotel’s use) was handed out, we finally started our journey to our accommodation. 


The trip to the hotel probably took 30 minutes. Then we waited again inside the bus as soon as we reached the hotel. The hotel staff was in full PPE as they approached our bus. They carried our luggage inside and had us alight in small groups so as not to overwhelm the check-in counter staff inside. It was also raining that night. They had a limited number of umbrellas, so guests were escorted in batches. And when it was our turn to go to the hotel, a staff member sprayed disinfectant on our clothes and hand-carry bags. A long table by the entrance also welcomed us, along with another hotel staff assigned to scan our temperatures. The table contained white sheets of paper that required for our details to be written again. There were too many papers that needed signing throughout our trip, which was inefficient and time-consuming. They could’ve probably considered handing out documents with those carbon-printed copies for a faster and smoother process. Anyway, make sure you have a pen with you because sharing your stuff isn’t advisable during this pandemic.

Hotel staff were required to get our temperatures checked before entering the premises. My husband and I both had a 36.6 reading, which we wrote on the white form. After that, we walked towards the door and stepped on two mats - one for disinfecting and one for drying our shoes.

The check-in was fast too. My husband initially asked if we could stay in one room as we’re married, anyway. But because of a strict ruling, they allowed only a single room occupancy. I was okay with it, given that the Makati lodging was world-class. I wouldn’t mind being quarantined in a nice hotel room, even without him beside me. It might bore him being on his own, but I’m sure he will enjoy his alone time. Anyhow, as soon as we got our key cards and printed guidelines, we hurried off to our rooms. But before we could end the night, we exchanged some clothes and toiletries by the hallway. We had to do this because we might not have the chance to do, so as stated by the strict quarantine rules.

We finally got settled in our room around 1:30 AM. I now had time to sit down and eat the meal that I received at the airport. It was already cold, but I didn’t mind as I was hungry as a bear.

It was already 4 AM when I finally dozed off. But sadly found myself waking up 4 hours later. My stomach was already growling. Good thing, a hotel staff already dropped breakfast off outside my door. My first complimentary meal was pork longanisa and danggit with rice. It was already cold by the time I opened my food, but I still enjoyed it with much gusto. I mean, who was I to complain? Fairmont Hotel staff have looked after us so warmly.

Today is day 2 of being in mandatory hotel quarantine. I’ll write more about my days here. But until then, I’m heading back to bed and continue watching my new series on Netflix: It’s okay to not be okay. 

NOTE: As of writing, OFW'S were exempted from paying the PCR-test and hotel quarantine costs.

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