HK bans PAL passenger flights until Sept. 11 | Inquirer Business
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HK bans PAL passenger flights until Sept. 11

/ 03:35 PM August 30, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Hong Kong banned Philippine Airlines (PAL) passenger flights from Manila for two weeks until Sept. 11, disrupting the travel plans of overseas Filipino workers returning to their jobs in the Chinese territory.

Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health said the fresh curbs started on Aug. 29 after three passengers from Manila were confirmed to have COVID-19 upon “arrival testing” at the Chinese Special Administrative Region last Aug. 27.

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It said the passengers were onboard PAL flight PR300. A similar ban was placed on Turkish Airlines flights from Istanbul after three passengers also tested positive on arriving last Friday (Aug. 27).

PAL said in a statement on Monday (Aug. 30) that the passengers, two Filipinos and one Chinese national, presented a negative RT-PCR coronavirus test result before leaving Manila.

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The tests were taken within 72 hours before the flight, which was a requirement of Hong Kong.

“We reiterate that the top priority of Philippine Airlines has always been the safety and health of our passengers,” said PAL. “We consistently comply with industry and regulatory safety protocols in the Philippines and abroad.”

PAL, which flies thrice weekly between Hong Kong and Manila, said cargo flights will continue apart from passenger trips coming from Hong Kong.

The development creates another setback for thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) hoping to return to work this week.

Earlier this month, OFWs were refused entry after Hong Kong said it would not recognize vaccination cards coming from Philippine local government units since these were not standardized.

But starting Aug. 30, authorities in Hong Kong agreed to accept the “yellow card” issued by the Bureau of Quarantine, according to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

This would be allowed as proof of vaccination while the Department of Information and Communications Technology and Department of Health prepare for next month’s dry-run of the Philippines’ digital vaccination certificates via the VaxCertPH platform.

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In the meantime, OFWs bound for Hong Kong could book flights using Cathay Pacific. A Cebu Pacific spokesperson said the airline would also resume flights to Hong Kong by September this year.

The ban poses another challenge for PAL, which was banking on essential travelers to survive falling revenues during the pandemic.

PAL recorded a P16.55 billion loss in the first semester of 2021 while it implemented a comprehensive restructuring program to survive the global health crisis.

In its statement, the flag carrier said measures were in place “to protect our passengers throughout the journey on all our flights.”

PAL said all aircraft were equipped with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that cleanse cabin air of bacteria and viruses. Cabin crew also wear full personal protective gear, face masks and shields while the aircraft interior is regularly disinfected.

Nevertheless, the issue raises concerns over the 72-hour window for RT-PCR testing and whether more safeguards were needed in preventing the spread of COVID-19 across borders.

While RT-PCR tests provided high accuracy in detecting COVID-19, the World Health Organization said these could miss infections while incubating or when a person was infected after taking the test.

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TAGS: coronavirus infection, flight ban, Hong Kong, ofws, Philippine Airlines, RT-PCR tests
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