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The Department of Transportation (DOTr) teamed up with 2Go Shipping to turn passenger vessels into "quarantine ships" for returning seafarers and overseas Filipino workers.

As proposed by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on March 22, private passenger ships will be converted into temporary quarantine facilities as authorities expect more repatriates to return to the country.

Currently, 2GO Shipping has agreed to convert two of their ships into ‘quarantine ships’ that can serve 1,500 patients and will be operational by next week.

The Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), in a meeting on March 30, gave the DOTr and PCG the green light to implement the operation of ‘quarantine ships’ as temporary facilities for persons under monitoring (PUMs) or those who have traveled to Covid-19 affected areas and those who show symptoms but have no history of exposure.

The project will be implemented in close coordination with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ). This is also expected to unburden hospitals that are now operating at their full capacity.

“Importante talaga na mag-bayanihan tayo sa panahong ito — mapa-gobyerno, mapa-pribadong sektor, kailangang magtulungan para sa bayan (It is very important that we cooperate during this time – whether you are in government or private sector, we need to work together for the country). We must always be prepared to face worst-case scenarios,” DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade said.

“Most hospitals in Metro Manila have already pleaded for help in attending to Covid-19 patients. Some of them can no longer accept more patients due to overcapacity. And that is what we are trying to address here. We will deploy these ‘quarantine ships’ to help our hospitals, our health workers, and our countrymen. Malaking tulong ito sa mga kababayan natin (This is a great help to our countrymen),” he added.

The PCG will also make sure that there will be unhampered and orderly operations of quarantine ships, and that the delivery of effective onboard health care, subject to standard environment controls, hygiene protocols, as well as maritime safety and security regulations, are observed.

“We are grateful for the support and partnership we had with 2GO. Negotiations with them went well and so, two ships are now awaiting their deployment to serve our people. With this meaningful cause, we are setting an example for other nations how to combat this pandemic,” PCG Commandant Admiral Joel Garcia said.

Meanwhile, DOTr officer-in-charge, Undersecretary for Administrative Service and IATF official representative Artemio U. Tuazon Jr. said the efforts of the DOTr to reach out to various shipping companies have resulted in more shipping companies expressing their intention to join the project.

“The DOTr has been continuously reaching out to various shipping companies to seek their support for the project. A lot of them have already signified their intent to make use of their ships as floating quarantine facilities. We are grateful that more of them are expressing their willingness to cooperate with government during this very critical situation,” Tuazon said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Ports Authority will perform support functions to ensure smooth administrative and logistics operations.

As part of safety protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus, the capacity of each ship will be limited in order to observe proper physical distancing. The ships will also be subjected to inspection by the DOH to ensure their compliance with other health requirements.

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