Sweeper flight flies out hundreds of foreigners stranded in Mindanao

Apr. 20, 2020

Department of Tourism-10 personnel screen stranded passengers before boarding a sweeper flight bound for Manila at the Laguindingan Airport in Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental, Saturday afternoon, April 18, 2020. Foreign nationals and their families who were on vacation in Mindanao have been stranded due to the imposition of travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism-10)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Hundreds of foreign nationals and their families who have been stranded in Mindanao have been flown out of the region aboard a sweeper flight bound for Manila Saturday afternoon (April 18), the Department of Tourism-10 (DOT-10) said.

DOT-10 said 633 foreigners and Filipinos who are married to other nationalities holding permanent residency visas have been assisted by government agencies since March so they could go back to their home countries.

On Saturday’s sweeper flight, there were 143 passengers who boarded the Phil. Airlines’ Airbus 300 at the Laguindingan Airport in Laguindingan town, Misamis Oriental.

These foreigners with their spouses and children could not fly out of the country because of the travel restrictions imposed by the government amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Among those who boarded the sweeper flight were Australians, Americans, Koreans, New Zealanders, Canadians, Britons, Dutch, French, Japanese, Germans, Danish, Norwegians, Swedes, Qataris, and a Singaporean.

Marie Elaine Unchuan, DOT-10 regional director, said the expatriation of the stranded tourists has been a joint effort of local and national government agencies to provide manpower and resources for the safe return of foreign citizens to their countries of origin.

“As always, rain or shine, in good times and bad, I think the Filipino brand of hospitality really shines bright. Especially in the darkest of times, we see the resilience and the love of the Filipinos for the tourists and other countries,” Unchuan said.

She said the efforts extended by concerned government offices “bring out the best in the Filipinos” and that “it’s very nice to see the ‘bayanihan’ spirit working together.”

Before they were allowed to board the plane, all the passengers were requested to present their passport, a confirmed flight ticket to their home country, and a hotel booking in Manila if their international flight is not on the same day as the sweeper flight.

The passengers were also required to present a health certificate signed by the city or municipal health officer in the locality where they have stayed during their vacation stating that they do not bear symptoms related to Covid-19 and are fit to travel.

For his part, Job de Jesus, Laguindingan Airport manager, said, “We always ensure that the operations here in the airport are smooth. As such, we are always ready to accommodate these sweeper flights for as long as there is a need to transport these stranded tourists out of the region.”

Klas Klementssos, a Swedish national and one of the stranded tourists, said he and his wife and child were stranded in Cagayan de Oro for seven weeks.

“We arrived in the Philippines on March 1 and then we went scuba diving in Palawan. That was when the lockdown started because of the Covid-19. It was very fortunate that we were able to go back to Cagayan to stay with my family,” the DOT-10 quoted Klementssos as saying.

He added “it was really very tough for us when the quarantine happened which is why we are really happy for the assistance of DOT and other agencies in this region because of this sweeper flight. We can no finally come home.”

Unchuan said she has remained optimistic that the tourists will come back when the country returns to normal.

“I think it [Covid-19] crisis shows a lot of the very good qualities of the Filipinos. So I think they will be coming back. We made a lot of friends and we have been talking to them for weeks now and they are very thankful,” she said.

“They’re very encouraged now to come back and witness the hospitality of the Filipinos once more when the time comes when we are in a better situation,” she added. (davaotoday.com)

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