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By EDD K. USMAN and DEEN MOHAMMAD
RIYADH/MANILA, June 11 (SDN) — MANY employees of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Philippine Embassy Chief of Mission Ambassador Adnan Alonto confirmed this today, June 11, to SDN — Science & Digital News.
“We have __ Covid positive, unfortunately,” the Philippine ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia said.
(SDN has the number of the coronavirus positive as mentioned by the ambassador, but not mentioning it out of respect to a request from a POLO-Riyadh executive.)
The Kingdom is host to three POLO stations in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Eastern Province. POLO operates under the embassy’s wings.
There are nearly 900,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families in the Kingdom, embassy figures showed. For many years the Kingdom has been the top destination of job-seeking Filipinos.
Ambassador Alonto said the POLO Riyadh workers who were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (Covid-19), “are now on self-quarantine.”
He said the other day that staff and personnel of the embassy will be put on mass testing as soon as possible.
In a related development, an OFW who declined to be named said Saudi government hospitals are no longer conducting coronavirus test for those not showing any symptoms.
Only private hospitals are performing to persons who do not show the virus symptoms for 1,500 Saudi rial each test, the OFW said.
The embassy announced Thursday the temporary suspension of services at the POLO-Riyadh Office, apparently because of the Covid-19 infections.
OFWS have until June 13 to transact with POLO-Riyadh headed by Labor Attache Nasser Mustafa.
In the announcement dated June 10, 2020, the Philippine mission said it “wishes to inform the Filipino Community and the transacting public that the services at the (POLO-Riyadh) shall be suspended effective 14 June 2020 until further notice.”
POLO-Riyadh staff undergo testing for Covid-19 on June 7. Their faces are covered to protect their privacy. (Source: POLO-Riyadh)
The announcement said further that officials and staff of the office “need to undergo quarantine process after several of them recently tested positive for Covid-19.
“Embassy personnel who recently came in contact with the infected POLO-Riyadh employees shall also undergo quarantine and Covid-19 testing to ensure the safety of the transacting public.”
But life goes on and government services continues amid the sad development at POLO-Riyadh.
“POLO-Riyadh personnel shall continue to respond to calls, offer consultation services to clients, and provide counseling to OFWs in distress,” the embassy assured.
Mustafa, who is said to have tested negative, had POLO-Riyadh personnel undergo testing early on June 8 for Covid-19.
The embassy in Riyadh sought understanding from the Filipino community and the transacting public for the temporary suspension of services at POLO-Riyadh.
It can be recalled that staff of POLO-Riyadh have been visiting OFWs to deliver cash and relief goods to them as the Saudi lockdown continued.
The OFW said the infected employees might have gotten the virus from other Filipinos during the house-to-house distribution of Php10,000 in cash and a separate food assistance.
As the number of infections in the Kingdom continues to increase, many OFWs are worried, he said.
As of today, June 11, the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 3,733 new cases, pushing the total of infected persons to 116,021 (Source: Saudi Buzz on Facebook).
The OFW said he learned that many are requesting the embassy and POLO for repatriation: those whose contract were terminated/contract ended and stranded before the lockdown; those who became unemployed because of the lockdown; undocumented or TNT; and, those who resigned and wanting to exit the Kingdom. (SDN)
Featured image shows medical professionals as they prepared to test POLO-Riyadh officials and employees. Labor Attaché Nasser Mustafa is at the left. (Source: POLO-Riyadh)