BY ROY C. MABASA
The Philippine Embassy in Canberra on Thursday said there are no Filipinos infected with COVID-19 in Australia, even as Melbourne implements a six-week lockdown due to an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the State of Victoria.
“Good news is there are no reported infected Filipinos here. That’s the good news that I can share with you,” Philippine Ambassador to Canberra Ma. Hellen dela Vega said at the “Laging Handa” briefing.
Dela Vega, however, advised Filipinos in Australia to continue observing health protocols like social distancing and wearing of masks after the Australian authorities closed all the borders leading to Victoria following an outbreak of the disease in the past few days.
As of July 9, there are 9,059 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia with 7,573 total recoveries and 106 total deaths, according to the online monitoring platform, Worldometer.
During the six-week lockdown period, Dela Vega said only those getting essential needs like food, or going to study or do exercises, will be allowed to go out of their homes.
But for Filipinos who need to go to the Philippine Embassy in Canberra for urgent consular matters, the lady envoy said they are willing to assist them in getting travel exemptions from the relevant Australian authorities.
She said there are also stranded Filipinos in Victoria who want to be repatriated but cannot cross the borders due to the current lockdown.
“My understanding is that there is an open scheduled flight of Philippine Airlines that will be departing from Sydney on July 25. We are expecting there are Filipinos who will be able to return to the Philippines coming from other parts of Australia,” said Dela Vega.
In the last five months, the Filipino envoy said that she, along with other ambassadors from Association of Southeast Asian Nation countries, sought the help of several Australian educational and government institutions to provide assistance to fthe more than 150,000 international students from ASEAN member-countries, including the 17,000 Filipinos. The Philippines is currently the country chair of the ASEAN-Canberra committee.
“We wrote a letter to about 14 universities here and the state minister of education and we got a favorable outcome. We have received several assurances from these institutions and state ministers about the relief packages and support they’re giving to students which included about 17,000 students coming from the Philippines,” she said.
Even in the middle of the pandemic in Australia, Dela Vega said it is surprising to note that the Philippine labor office at the embassy continues to receive job orders for Filipino workers in certain categories such as welding and agriculture, among others.
“Notwithstanding the COVID-19 situation, our labor office has received job orders. Meaning, there’s interest in hiring Filipino workers… We are expecting sooner or later, hopefully, before the year is over, these (job orders) will resume,” she said.