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Coming home during COVID-19

/ 05:02 AM January 16, 2022

I am a single (widowed) senior professional woman living and working in NYC. I left Manila on March 8, 2020, and came back only a year later after I got all my vaccines. Since then, I had visited Manila three times, the last one arriving on Christmas Eve. All in all, I had been quarantined (I call it solitary confinement) in a hotel at my own expense for 20 days. Unless you are determined and really hardheaded, it is a hardship to come home.

You must really be committed to come home for personal reasons like family; to see a sick sibling and elderly relatives and friends. My advice is below:

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1) Set the dates so get your ticket as soon as possible (round trip) since it is cheaper. PAL is a good carrier but be aware that they cancel their flights occasionally. The advantage of flying PAL is that it is a direct flight and we help them rise from bankruptcy.

2) Go to the website of your local Philippine consulate regarding travel to the Philippines since rules on travel/restrictions are changed almost every 15 days. You can also call them or email. Even if you are not flying PAL, go to their website since it is current and accurate.

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3) If you are not yet a dual Filipino-American citizen, reacquire your Filipino citizenship.

No need to get a Filipino passport, just bring your identification certificate as proof of your reacquisition. The application is all done electronically and the only time you go personally to the consulate is on your swearing date. My experience at the NY General Consulate is positive; the staff had improved dramatically.

4) The Bureau of Quarantine has a list of approved hotels. Choose what is nearest your home and get the one with three meals included.

5) Review again the websites of your local consulate and PAL. A day or two before you leave, complete the One Health Pass with its own unique QR code. Follow all the instructions and requirements to the letter: PCR within 72 hours prior to departure, proofs of immunization, CDC card and the yellow WHO immunization card, and other personal information needed at that time.

6) A few days prior, make a list of contacts: a) your accountant; b) your lawyer; c) your investment advisors; d) your banker; e) your insurance agents; f) your supervisors at work; and g) contacts in the Philippines. Give this list to a relative or a good friend. Prepay or make arrangements to pay electronically all your bills. You can also leave checks to be mailed by a friend/relative. Discontinue your TV, internet, and phone service.

7) Make hard copies of necessary papers, your passport, proof of Filipino citizenship, hotel confirmation including your car service, and most important your One Health Pass.

8) Travel light and separate the clothes you are going to use while on quarantine (three to seven days). I suggest that one of the best clothes would be surgical scrubs.

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Go to the airport early. Even if you are trim and physically active, request for wheelchair service. Some airports like the one in Korea is so huge that you can get lost.

Now, you are in our Lupang Pilipinas. The wheelchair porters are nice and will help you facilitate all the necessary papers needed. Compared to May 2021, which was very chaotic, last Christmas Eve’s procedures on arrival were a breeze. After customs and immigration, wait for your hotel pick-up.

After check-in at the hotel, the last live person that you will see is the bell man who brought your luggage. The following are my advice while in the hotel:

1) If you are arriving late, please ask them to prepare some food for you like a sandwich.

2) Since we are considered “contaminated,” we are served on plastic containers with plastic spoons and forks. If you can convince the food and beverage section to “plate” your food, that is good.

3) Nobody will clean your room, including the toilet. Request for extra sheets, towels, soap, shampoo, extra coffee, creamer and tea, and even cleaning supplies for the bathroom, including gloves.

4) When you check out, leave two envelopes for both the food and beverage and housekeeping services (even if they did not do any cleaning for you) at the front desk.

As a rule, I give the same amount of tips both in the US and here where it is needed more.

After a negative RT-PCR a day before your release, you will go home to your family. Don’t be surprised that because of COVID-19, you may not even see some of your friends. I know people “locked in” inside their houses since March 2020. We should try to breathe fresh air and smell the roses as long as we take precautions to improve our immunity, avoid getting infected, and improve our mental health.

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Ida M. Tiongco (age withheld on request) is a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in New York City, an attending physician in dermatology at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, and an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine both in New York City.

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TAGS: balikbayan, COVID-19 pandemic, High Blood, Ida M. Tiongco
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