The management of Airswift regional airline which carried a COVID-positive Australian national from Puerto Princesa City to Clark, Pampanga on March 17 denied Saturday they were made aware of the passenger’s health status when he was allowed to board the plane.
Fely Salvador, vice-president for commercial of Airport Services and Aerodomes, in a phone interview with Palawan News, reacted to city government and health officials’ pronouncements claiming that there was special coordination with the airline on the boarding of the passenger.
“He got a ticket, he passed airport screening. There was no endorsement. There was no way we could have known he was a person under investigation (PUI),” Salvador said.
City officials earlier said the Australian national was allowed to leave even without waiting for the result of his COVID-19 tests because of the impending air travel ban in Palawan and at the request of the Australian embassy.
Ruffia Marie Atencio, the spokesperson of the City Health Office (CHO), said Saturday in a media conference aired live on Facebook that the patient was escorted from the hotel to the airport on March 17 with health personnel on full PPG.
Atencio said the Australian COVID-19 positive was escorted inside a backdoor at the airport arrival terminal where he remained in segregation awaiting his departure from the Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPIA).
He was also reported to be the last to board the plane and remained in distant isolation from other passengers, she said.
He was out of the country on March 17 and the Australian authorities confirmed his arrival in Perth, Australia, where he will be on continued monitoring if he maintains to show no further symptoms.
Earl Timbancaya, chief of City Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Office (CDRRMO), confirmed this saying the Australian was escorted to the airport from a hotel where he had undergone self-quarantine accompanied by health personnel wearing personal protective gear (PPG).
“Standard protocol ang in-impose sa transfer ng pasyente. Lahat ng tao namin naka-PPG,” Timbancaya said.
The Australian national was among at least four persons classified as PUI who were awaiting test results at the time he was discharged from the Ospital ng Palawan on March 15, 2020.
Salvador reiterated that the circumstances of the passenger were not disclosed to them and that no special protocol was followed. The patient boarded the 8 p.m. flight on March 17 aboard a 43-seater plane marked as Flight T6-5115, PPS-CRK.
“If he was really isolated, escorted to the airport, that will flag us. Sasabihin namin, ‘sandali lang, bakit meron mga naka-personal protective gear (PPG) na papasakayin namin?’ she said.
“Ang naging special assistance lang namin sa araw na iyon ay isang senior citizen, na upon arrival sa Clark, he was given a wheelchair,” Salvador added.
However, Salvador claimed that the COVID-19 patient flew on his own placing the health of the flight crew and other passengers at risk.
“We know that PUIs are not allowed to fly, not even allowed to leave their homes, or the hospital itself. We know that if na-swab ka, and you are waiting for a result, you should stay in the hospital,” Salvador said.
Salvador also said that they would not have allowed the COVID-19 patient to take the flight had they known he was a PUI.
“Walang nakita ang mga ground crew sa araw na may ganun ngang pasahero. Hindi namin iri-risk ang ibang pasahero at crew namin kapag may ganoong pasahero na may arrangement. The plane was also full, wala nang puwedeng maging isolation. There were other people in the airport on that day to verify. They can ask those who were there on that day. Kung alam namin na PUI siya, hindi talaga namin ‘yan pasasakayin,” she added.
City officials earlier said they are conducting an intensive contact tracing on the case of the Australian national to preempt the possible spread of the virus.
“Nasa stage tayo ng contact tracing. Lalo na tayong dapat mag ingat. Ang ipinaglalaban natin hindi lang sarili natin kundi ang pamilya natin at ang lungsod ng Puerto Princesa,” Mayor Lucilo Bayron said in a press conference Saturday morning. (with reports from Patricia Laririt)