THE Department of Health (DoH) said on Friday that repatriation measures are ready as they expect at least 460 Filipinos who had been quarantined for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) on board cruise ship MV Diamond Princess to come home on Sunday.

Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said in a briefing that the DoH is collaborating with other government agencies under the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IAFT-EID) and other concerned parties for the Feb. 23 voluntary repatriation of Filipinos who had been on the MV Diamond Princess currently in the Yokohama Port in Japan.

“DoH is currently in close coordination with the IATF member agencies, the World Health Organization, the Philippine Embassy in Japan, and the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation for the repatriation of around 460 to 480 Filipinos aboard the cruise ship who requested assistance to return to the Philippines,” she said.

Before being repatriated, the Filipinos will screened for symptoms of the disease. Only the asymptomatic will be allowed to leave.

Because of the large number of people who are expected to fly back to the Philippines from Japan, Ms. Vergeire said that they will use two airplanes to bring them home. Once they land in the Philippines, they will undergo assessment and then be quarantined. The DoH will also deploy five medical teams to take care of those quarantined.

The quarantine area is the Athletes Village in New Clark City, which was previously used for the 30 Filipinos who were repatriated earlier this month from Wuhan, China. Nineteen crew members who assisted in the Wuhan repatriation were also quarantined. All of them have completed the quarantine period with no sign of having the virus.

Meanwhile, DoH is also verifying the number of Filipinos from the stricken cruise ship who have COVID-19 as they have received some reports that 52 have tested positive.

In terms of their possible repatriation to the Philippines, Ms. Vergeire said that this is still being discussed as they are also considering complicating factors such as the varying stages of the disease among those infected as they weren’t all confined at the same time, and the type of facilities and transportation measures needed to bring them home safely. — Gillian M. Cortez