May 27 ------ Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess arrived unexpectedly in Manila Bay joining the large cluster of cruise ships as the Philippine Government worked to speed the process of repatriation for returning overseas workers. The Diamond Princess departed Japan on May 16 more than three months after the cruise ship arrived at the Port of Yokohama during what became a highly publicized early outbreak of COVID-19. At the time of her departure, Princess Cruises reported that she would sail to Port Dickson, Malaysia to finalize crew repatriation efforts and would remain there until cruise operations resumed, which is currently scheduled for October 2020.
Anchored in Manila Bay, the Diamond Princess joins more than 20 other cruise ships that are also in the port working to complete crew reparations after a mandatory 14-day quarantine. This includes ships from Costa Cruises, Holland American Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International, among others. Another five cruise ships are in the waters just outside Manila Bay also completing the quarantine for their crews while additional ships from Carnival Cruise Line and others are also reported en route to the region.
Coming under increasing pressure from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, and with complaints rising from the returning workers, the government is also working to expedite the processing assisting people cleared from quarantine to reach their homes. Currently, it is estimated that there are approximately 24,000 workers still aboard cruise ships or in hotels after returning on overseas flights. In total, nearly 34,000 workers have returned from the cruise ships and jobs in other countries with the Department of Foreign Affairs reporting that over 29,000 people have completed their mandatory 14-day quarantine. The delays are resulting from both the release of test results as well as the process needed to obtain certificates from the Bureau of Quarantine. President Duterte ordered the government agencies to accelerate efforts to send these workers home making the process easier to obtain certificates and transportation once they clear quarantine.
In addition to the online publication of lists of people cleared from quarantine, several other signs of progress have appeared. Recently, Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship the Voyager of the Seas and Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Splendor sailed from Manila reportedly heading to the Singapore area. The challenge of processing the growing numbers is expected to continue to increase with as many as 50,000 more people expected to return to The Philippines during June. In preparation to handle these increasing numbers, President Duterte reported that more than 22,000 hotel rooms are available to serve as quarantine facilities for returning Filipinos during the mandatory period.
The President’s remarks came after presiding over a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases where they discussed the latest updates on the government’s efforts and programs. Manila and other cities are continuing under quarantine restrictions at least until May 31, while restrictions are being relaxed in other parts of The Philippines. Citizens, however, are still being urged to continue social distancing efforts, wearing face masks, and frequent hand washing as the country continues to work to contain the spread of the virus. The Philippine Coast Guard recently released a brief video showing the ongoing testing procedures aboard one of the many cruise ships in Manila Bay. It is unclear once the quarantine process has been completed if the cruise ships will remain in Manila Bay or The Philippines or go elsewhere during their lay-up periods.