'Test us first': Crew of virus-hit ship wary of going home as quarantine ends March 29

MANILA, Philippines – The Filipino crew of virus-hit Grand Princess cruise ship are about to complete their 14-day quarantine on Sunday, March 29, but they are concerned about going home to their families without getting tested first. 

In an open letter released Friday night, the crew members quarantined in New Clark City in Tarlac, asked President Rodrigo Duterte to have all 538 of them tested before sending them home to make sure that they are not carriers of the novel coronavirus disease.

They said they are more qualified than politicians and their families to get tested because they were exposed to the disease for a longer period while they worked at the virus-hit cruise ship. 

"Kami ay nananawagan sa pamahalaan na ipasailalim sa testing ang lahat ng crew members bago matapos ang aming 14-day quarantine period ngayong Lingo, Marso 29, dahil nakasalalay dito ang buhay, kalusugan at kaligtasan ng aming mga pamilya at komunidad," the crew members said in open letter released by Migrante International, an organization assisting overseas Filipino workers. 

(We are calling on the government to test all the crew members before our 14-day quarantine ends on Sunday, March 29, because the lives, health, and safety of our own families and communities are at stake here.) 

"Kung ang mga politiko at mga pamilya nila ay nakakuha ng testing, paano pa kami na tiyak na na-expose sa matagal na panahon (If politicians and their families were tested, how much more for us who were exposed to the disesase for a long time)," they added.

Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said the crew members sought their help "to send their message and concerns to the public and our government."

Linked to cases in California

Grand Princess cruise ship was bound for Hawaii when a passenger who stepped off the boat in California tested positive for the disease, among the first cases of COVID-19 in the state. The US is the current epicenter of the pandemic. 

They are the second batch of Filipino crew members repatriated by the government and quarantined at the New Clark City, following over 400 crew members from Diamond Princess cruise ship earlier in March.

In New Clark City, temperature checks were regularly conducted but laboratory tests were conducted randomly, the group said.

Some of the crew tested positive and were brought to a hospital in Bataan, they added, but did not say how many.

The open letter was addressed to Duterte, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), Department of Health, local manning company Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, and the management of international company Princess Cruises.

Many of the quarantined crew members live far away from the quarantine facility and were wary of the Luzon-wide lockdown. They asked for assistance to retrieve luggage they were forced to leave in the ship, for temporary accommodation after the quaratine ends, and for transportation to be able to go home to their families.

They said more Filipino crew members of Grand Princess, who are still in California, need to be repatriated, too.

The crew members also appealed to the local manning company Magsaysay Maritime Corporation and the management of Princess Cruises not to delay their compensation and benefits. 

They also asked the government for financial assistance. – Rappler.com