TRAVELING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
I took the plunge and traveled by air, from San Francisco, CA to Manila, Philippines in mid-November during this COVID-19 pandemic. I must admit I was scared, fearful that I may catch the Coronavirus and contract the disease along the way--- at the airport, on the plane, while in the Philippines. I knew there were risks involved but I took all necessary precautions and made sure I practiced safety measures per the CDC guidelines, and followed protocols that were in place while in the Philippines.
A day prior to my flight, I took a COVID-19 test then quarantined myself at home. The next time I got out of the house was when I headed to the airport for my flight the following day. I was confident of a negative test result and was thinking what are the chances of catching the virus from my minimal time at the airport to check-in for my flight, board the plane, and my 12-hour direct flight to Manila?
Drive-thru COVID-19 Testing
Per the Philippine Government’s COVID-19 safety guidelines, all arriving passengers to the Philippines are required to get a COVID-19 test. No international passenger can exit a Philippine airport without this being done. As well, each passenger arriving in the Philippines must be quarantined at a government accredited quarantine hotel until a negative COVID-19 test is released. Upon which, a medical clearance certificate from the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) is granted. And only then can one proceed to his or her home destination. If the test is positive, however, a passenger is further quarantined at a government assigned facility or hotel for further monitoring and testing.
The Philippine Air Lines (PAL) website provides a list of paperwork that needs to be accomplished prior to a passenger's flight which includes registering for the COVID-19 test upon arrival at a Manila airport, booking for a hotel at a government accredited quarantine hotel, plus shuttle services. PAL has partnered with several hotels that offer special packages for quarantine stays.
I inquired from a friend who recently traveled back home to Manila about the quarantine process; he reported he was quarantined for at least 5 days while waiting for his COVID-19 test result. Hence, I booked a room for my quarantine stay at the Manila Marriot Hotel for five days.
Since face shields are mandated in the Philippines, on top of face masks, I made sure I had one in my carry-on luggage. Only when I was about to board the plane that I found out passengers without face shields cannot board the aircraft. But fret not. PAL provides face shields to those who do not come prepared with it.
Face masks and face shields were to be worn at all times, throughout the 12 hour or so flight. Even while sleeping. Only when eating or drinking were we allowed to take them off.
For COVID-19 safety purposes, no fancy champagne glasses, but disposable plastic cups instead.
No 3-course plated dinner service, as well. Supper on the left, breakfast on the right.
Waking up after sleeping for 6 hours with my face mask and face shield on.
My flight arrived early just before 4 o' clock in the morning on November 16th. Airport staff at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal II courteously guided us upon deplaning since several changes were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first stop upon arrival at the airport was not the Immigration Desk. Rather, the COVID-19 testing area. I presented my QR code to the reception desk staff--- this QR code was provided via email after registering for the COVID-19 testing as previously mentioned. Once the QR code was confirmed, I paid the 4,000 pesos fee for my COVID-19 testing. I was then given 3 pieces of barcode stickers which I handed over to the healthcare staff-worker who performed my swab tests--- nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal. I was told results may be available within 24 hours.
After my swab test, one of the barcode stickers was attached on the back of my passport and I was instructed to proceed to the Immigration Desk. Prior to claiming my luggage I first had to stop at a Department of Tourism (DOT) Help Desk where my hotel booking was verified. A copy of my hotel booking confirmation, printed on paper (I also had a copy in my email) was checked by the DOT staff. I then had to write my name and contact number on their logbook.
Before heading out of the airport, the printed copy of my hotel booking confirmation was once again checked, this time by a member of the Philippine Coast Guard who was stationed at the Customs Desk, who pointed me to where the shuttles were located for my pickup and transport to my hotel. I booked a separate shuttle for myself and contacted my assigned driver--- which was not an issue with the Philippine Coast Guard, since most shuttles and vans had the same waiting areas.
The shuttle driver assigned to me was surprised at how quickly I got out of the airport. Less than an hour after my flight landed. And so was I! Wow, the whole process was like clockwork. Highly organized! I must applaud PAL, the Manila International Airport Authority, Detoxicare Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory (Detoxicare), the Bureau of Immigration and Customs, DOT and the Philippine Coast Guard for a job well done! Importantly, throughout the process, I felt safe! All safety measures in place were implemented effectively and efficiently.
Transport to the hotel and check-in was a breeze.
A beautiful Christmas Wreath greeted me at the entrance of Manila Marriott Hotel.
There were a number of quarantine floors within the hotel, and noticeably, chairs were placed by the doors of each room where packed meals were placed for the guests to pick-up. I did not avail of the 3-meal a day quarantine hotel package but opted for room service instead.
No outside food delivery was allowed. No visitors allowed either. I was not allowed to leave my room. The key to my room worked just for a single time--- a one time access to open my room.
Five days alone in a hotel room for quarantine, might as well make it a comfortable stay. I requested for a room with a view--- golf course view instead of city view. I requested for a yoga mat. The hotel staff provided all of my requests. They were very accommodating indeed.
Once in my room, I unpacked my belongings and set-up my laptop to ‘work from home." I then savored the stillness of the room. I was thankful for a safe flight to Manila--- hopeful and looked forward to seeing family members again. I showered, took a brief nap, and ordered lunch upon waking.
First meal of my quarantine stay. What a combination! Caesar Salad, Sinigang na Salmon, White Rice (of, course).
I was glued to the TV thereafter, on CNN, as it was announced a second COVID-19 vaccine was showing great promise on being out in the market soon awaiting final approval from government agencies.
I decided to check on my email before going to bed to rest and sleep. Lo and behold! An email from Detoxicare came in about 2 hours earlier notifying me of a negative COVID-19 test! Wow, in less than 8 hours my COVID-19 test result was released. Pretty impressive. This was faster than the COVID-19 testing I had in California.
The next step was to notify the Bureau of Quarantine of my negative result to be issued a medical clearance certificate. They have a Hotline which I called, and I was given the instruction to email them a copy of my negative test result. I did this to expedite the process, or you can wait until Detoxicare forwards a copy of your negative result to the Bureau of Quarantine which may take longer considering the number of tests performed daily. In less than fifteen minutes after emailing the BOQ, I received a response with a link to download a copy of my medical clearance certificate. I hurriedly called the hotel’s front desk to notify them of this progress; they offered to print two copies of the medical clearance certificate for free.
Before heading down to the lobby to get printed copies of my BOQ document, I happily called my husband and told him to pick me up as I have been cleared and ready to check out of the hotel.
It would have been a lovely 5-day quarantine stay--- it was a beautiful room, service was excellent, food was delightful, and above all, hotel staff made sure I was safe and comfortable. But it was a relief to finally get a negative COVID-19 test result, obtain my medical clearance certificate and finally see my loved ones whom I have not seen since the Manila lockdown in March.
Happy to be home!