Filipino expats hope travel restrictions will end as Manila expands Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine drive

A travel ban review on June 15 could allow overseas workers to fly home to see families

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Filipinos in the UAE hope flight restrictions will end next week, to allow them to reunite with loved ones back home.

The Philippines government recently extended its ban on travellers from the UAE to June 15 to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Airlines - including Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines - cancelled flights between Manila and Dubai, while Emirates and Etihad Airways will only carry transit passengers.

On Monday, Manila approved the Sinopharm vaccine as it mounted a new vaccine push, with 15 million doses set to arrive in the coming weeks.

Seats on June 16 flights have been snapped up in recent days ahead of the June 15 review.

Two years for a mother feels like a really long time

Ellanie Villena, owner of Angel Wings International Tourism travel agency in Dubai, said limited flights were scheduled for later this month, subject to change.

“We had about 30 slots available for a special flight on Cebu Pacific from Dubai to Manila scheduled for June 16, but I think all the seats are taken now as there is a cap on the number of passengers allowed into the Philippines,” she said.

“We have two additional flights, one on June 28 and one on June 30 to Manila, but things are always subject to change with government announcements.

"Filipino residents in the UAE can avail the chartered [repatriation] flights but need to be sure they carry a negative PCR test and follow the quarantine protocols in the Philippines. Non-Filipinos will not be allowed to enter the country.

“For the past month or so the majority of our work has been to rebook and refund flights."

Those travelling from Dubai to the Philippines have to undergo 14 days mandatory quarantine, 10 days of which is spent in a government-appointed centre.

The changing travel updates have scuppered the plans of many Filipinos hoping to go home for a summer break. But many remain optimistic things will change later in the summer.

Loricelle Bernardo, 44, said she is desperate to see her daughter who lives in the Philippines with her mother.

"I'm planning to go back by July 1. I really want to go to see my daughter because I haven't seen her for two years,” said the mother of two, whose eldest son works in Dubai.

“She's turning 17 this August and I really want to see her celebrate her birthday."

Two years for a mother feels like a really long time, Ms Bernado said.

"It's good we have social media and Zoom so we can see them but, it's different, it's not personal.

"You can see them but you cannot hug, kiss or snuggle them.”

Despite the lengthy quarantine period, Ms Bernardo said she was willing to sacrifice a large chunk of her 30-day leave just to see her daughter.

“If you are working legally in Dubai and you register with the Philippine Embassy, the government will accommodate you,” she said.

“They will pay for the quarantine and the swab test. I think it is different if you live on another island [in the Philippines] and you have to take another flight, then you need to do another quarantine."

Ivy Padilla Espanueva, 30, from Zaragoza Bolinao, which is an eight-hour bus ride from Manila, said she was desperate to see her 2-year-old daughter.

"I booked my flight for July 13. At the moment, there are only repatriation flights, which is really sad, and I don't know what to do, but all Filipinos are hoping that the rules will change this July," she said.

Her daughter is about to turn 3, Ms Espanueva said.

"I really want to be with my family because it has been more than two years since I saw my daughter."

"If I manage to get there, I'll have to do 10 days in quarantine, but I still really want to go home to be with her."

Mother of two Toni Anne Gelle, 30, who is from Metro Manila, was sceptical about booking a trip home this summer.

“I want to go home but, because of the travel ban, I think I should just stay put for now, for my job, for my safety, and I don't want to be stuck there,” she said.

“I saw my children last year, in January. Normally I go at least twice a year, and I would have gone this summer, but last time I got stuck for one month because of the travel suspensions.

“It is really sad not to be able to see my children but I need to be practical. I need this job, and I need to be healthy and safe, so you just accept it.”

Ms Gelle said many of her friends and colleagues had booked flights but they kept getting cancelled  so, to her, it was not worth the hassle.

Mary Joy Reyes misses her family, including her four children, but is not planning a trip home to the Philippines this summer. Courtesy, Mary Joy Reyes
Mary Joy Reyes misses her family, including her four children, but is not planning a trip home to the Philippines this summer. Courtesy, Mary Joy Reyes

Mary Joy Reyes, 45, from Panay Island, would love to go home for the summer but believes the travel restrictions will prevent that this year.

"I miss my family so much – my father and mother, and my four children – but the situation is so hard now, and it is important I keep my job so I can earn money for my children's future.

"I feel sad because I'm away from my family, but I'm happy because I have great employers here in Dubai."

Esperanza Albay, 48, from Mindanao said she misses her three daughters terribly.

"I'm not going on vacation this year because I'm worried about quarantine, or getting stuck in the airport and not being able to come back," she said.

"I live on Mindanao, and you have to do quarantine in Manila and then again on my island in Davao.

"It has been two years now since I went home, but my kids are older, so they understand the situation. I promised them I am coming next year for vacation."