The Macau International Airport saw hundreds of passengers on Thursday – an oddity during the pandemic – as 362 stranded Filipino nationals flew home after being stranded in the city for up to four months.
This was the second and last repatriation flight organised by the Philippine Consulate General in Macao.
Due to the significant number of repatriation requests to the Philippine government from consulates abroad – particularly those in the Middle East – it took some time for the consulate to officially charter the special flights.
The one-way trip via Philippine Airlines had 140 tourists and 222 overseas Filipino workers onboard. Ninety-five of those on the flight were pregnant women.
According to Consul General Lilybeth Deapera, the second chartered flight still gave priority to adults with children, pregnant women, senior citizens and nationals with health conditions.
Initially, the consulate conducted a survey to see how many stranded nationals, tourists or not, were keen to go home.
“The ones included in the survey [were] around 800 people,” said the official.
The first chartered flight they negotiated with Philippine authorities brought some 162 passengers back home.
There are still a few hundred Filipino nationals in the SAR. However, these individuals can fly through Hong Kong International Airport, given that they inform the Philippine Consulate 72 hours prior to their flight and submit their contact, flight and family details.
Although these 362 passengers were finally able to return home after months of waiting for a direct flight, their misfortune does not end there. These individuals are required to undergo a COVID-19 swab test, which tourists in Macao have to pay around MOP 500 for. Those who undergo the mandatory quarantine period in the Philippines will have to stay on a designated cruise ship and share a room with one to three other people.
If tested negative, they will only be required to stay for at the designated quarantine site three to five days, given that Macao has been free of Covid-19 for the past two months.
“Those in Luzon might be allowed to be picked up given the recent easing of the lockdown. Those from Visayas and Mindanao will be sent over,” Deapera explained.
On Thursday, the airport was packed with these travellers, with many of them starting to check in before 10 a.m.
The flight departed at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday.
One passenger, Mary Ann Bonus, expressed worry about going home as the number of cases in the Philippines spiked to 27,779 on Thursday.
“We’re worried because there are a lot of cases back home. We don’t want to stay [in Manila] for a long time for quarantine purposes. But at the same time, I can’t spend more months here as I have been unemployed for two months already,” she said.
Another passenger, Ayla Alferez, along with her one-year-old son and sister, only came to Macao to visit her husband over Christmas. However, their return flight was rescheduled twice before it was officially cancelled.
They had also booked flights from Hong Kong to Taiwan to Manila, which were cancelled as well due to the increase in cases.
The consulate had followed up on her case to ensure she was onboard the previous chartered flight arranged by Melco Resorts & Entertainment.
“We didn’t join that flight because I cannot bring along my 23-year-old sister with me. Luckily now, we’re finally able to get on board. We’ve spent so much money on tickets and on being stranded already,” said Alferez.
“I hope we only stay for three to five days in the designated quarantine site because I’m also worried about my son.”
Thursday’s flight also repatriated the bodies of five deceased Filipino nationals.