Despite delays, gov't pushes to shoulder free COVID-19 testing for OFWs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 23) — The government wants to continue offering free COVID-19 testing to OFWs despite the expected delay in the release of results due to the backlog caused by the reimbursement issue between the Philippine Red Cross and PhilHealth.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) on Friday discouraged repatriated OFWs from booking their own coronavirus tests. Administrator Hans Cacdac said the Philippine Coast Guard is now conducting the swab tests then forwarding the specimen to 17 national and local government laboratories for processing.

"At this stage, we still would discourage an OFW paying for the swab test because the process as we still would want it to be free for OFW," he told CNN Philippines.

The Philippine Red Cross stopped the testing of OFWs being shouldered by the state health insurer after Philheath failed to settle its overdue balance of P930.99 million out of a total debt of P1.04 billion.

The rerouting of test processing has led to backlogs in laboratories, leaving the returning workers stuck in temporary quarantine centers in Metro Manila while waiting for their test results.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III pegged the number of stranded OFWs at 6,000. Cacdac said a total of 6,500 OFWs are currently staying in quarantine centers, but he said not all of their test results were delayed.

"Some of them are still awaiting of their results. Those who arrived last Oct. 15, they are entering their 8th day today. But most of them are still within the 3 to 7 day range in which one awaits their PCR test result upon arrival in the Philippines," he said.

The OWWA official assured that the testing, accommodation, and food remain free of charge during their extended stay.