To provide additional capacity for Covid-19 testing on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and seafarers without passing through Manila, private airport operator GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corporation (GMCAC) will be building a state-of-the-art laboratory inside its facility.
"We believe we can provide additional capacity to DOH (Department of Health) for testing OFWs upon arrival so that Cebu can also have international arrivals," GMCAC chief executive advisor Andrew Harrison said during a meeting with Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia on Tuesday, May 19, at the Provincial Capitol.
Harrison said currently all incoming flights carrying OFWs and seafarers land in Manila via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where they undergo testing and quarantine protocols.
However, because of the steady influx of arrivals, there is a backlog of about 20,000 OFWS waiting to be processed. This is aside from another 20,000 outside of the country who are awaiting repatriation.
Harrison said the company sees this as an opportunity to help Cebu in creating momentum to the economy while at the same time helping DOH and Manila decrease the backlog.
"This is not being done for commercial purposes. It is being done because we want to play our part in supporting the government to kickstart the economy and make sure that the livelihoods of Cebuanos are not further affected by the lack of economic stimulus," he said.
Harrison said GMCAC will be building a laboratory and testing facility by converting the baggage claim hall at the MCIA-Terminal 2 into two sections: testing booths for nose and throat swabbing and a laboratory equipped with technology that can provide results in 24 hours and can be accessed online.
It has a command center where spaces will be available for Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) and DOH personnel.
OFWs and seafarers upon arrival will immediately proceed to the testing booths for the swabbing before they can proceed to claiming their bags. They will then be processed for their transfer to designated hotels where they wait for the results.
"We will design a process to secure their transfer to designated hotels. They won't be able to go by themselves or take public transport," he assured.
Harrison said the facility seeks to test 900 OFWs and seafarers using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test at no cost.
"Currently there is a process where OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) and maritime associations is covering the cost. We need to see whether that will also be done. But yes we want to work with government in a way that there is no cost to the OFWS so we replicate what is being done in Manila," Harrison said.
GMCAC will partner with Prime Care Clinic for operating the laboratory and testing facility and will operate 24/7 and on three shifts.
Harrison also specified from the operator the speed of the process and why it chose the PCR test.
"Number 1, we don't want blood drawn from the veins. We want only nose and throat swabs because there are a lot of people who are very uncomfortable from blood drawn from them. And it is easier to train people if they just have to do the swabs and so that led to a certain technology to be used for the extractions that gives us the ability to produce results for 900 tests within 24 huors," he said.
"We believe they are the right solution for us as they basically are here in Cebu and we have known them for a long time," Harrison added.
The official shared they expect to finish the construction in 15 days while working in parallel with the DOH and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for the certification process.
"I just don't know how long the certification will take so I don't wish to commit to a timeline. But what I can say is we will do everything to get it done fast," he said.
These include providing chartered flights for RITM personnel who may inspect the facility or in sending samples from Manila and back at the cost of the company.
"We will do everything we can to make the process as quickly as possible but following all the required protocols and guidelines," he said.
Government will not spend for the construction of the laboratory.
"We will fund the cost of the lab, the entire construction, we will fund that. There is no commercial implication for this by the way because the airport does not generate revenues for the arrivals," he said.
Harrison said once OFWs start to come in and use local hotels as quarantine locations, economic activity will start to roll. Allied industries like café's, restaurants and other services will also get people traffic.
"Those people working at hotels, their livelihoods will be protected. All of this means simply kickstarting so that they can continue to have their jobs and continue to earn," he said.
"Little steps that we take to support government is very important to us," Harrison said.
Garcia, for her part, welcomed the initiative and reiterated her call for the province to transition back to resuscitating the economy amid the slack brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Vanessa L. Almeda)