(File photo)

MANILA – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Tuesday said 641,717 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have returned home and transported to their home provinces since the start of the pandemic last year.

Secretary Silvestre Bello III said at least 9,000 OFWs are still undergoing required quarantine protocols.

He thanked the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for shortening the quarantine requirement for returning OFWs, especially for those who are only in the country to visit their loved ones.

"The quarantine period has been shortened to allow our OFWs to be with their families for a long period of time,” Bello said in a statement.

He said some returning OFWs only spend 30 days in the country and that it should not be spent mostly in quarantine.

Under the new protocol, all returning OFWs are only required to undergo a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel/facility upon arrival, with reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing required on the seventh day. If the Covid-19 test is negative, they will be allowed to go home.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated OFWs, including travelers, will be required a seven-day quarantine, with RT-PCR testing done on the fifth day.

Once tested negative, they will be transported back to their homes subject to their local government unit’s requirements.

Bello assured that the labor department, through the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), is continuously seeking funds to help returning OFWs, especially now that Metro Manila is under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Since the onset of the pandemic, DOLE has been providing financial assistance to displaced OFWs through its Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong Program (AKAP), where beneficiaries are given a one-time cash aid of PHP10,000.

The OWWA-led Project EASE (Educational Assistance through Scholarship in Emergencies) also provides educational assistance to qualified dependents of OFWs whose employment was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. (PNA)