MANILA, Philippines — Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion and OCTA Research fellow and molecular biologist Nicanor Austriaco on Thursday urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to begin formulating a plan to take the Philippines out of the pandemic.
In a letter last January 26 addressed to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles and IATF Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., Concepcion and Austriaco said that “it is time for the national government to transition our people from a pandemic to an endemic mindset.”
As an initial step, the two suggested the reinstatement of the international travel protocols in place prior to December 03, 2021, namely: pre-departure testing within 24 hours of departure using either an RT-PCR or rapid antigen test, with additional PCR-based test upon arrival; three-day quarantine; and arrival testing on the third day of quarantine, with exit permitted upon showing a negative result.
Concepcion and Austriaco noted that these protocols were already approved and being implemented but were put on hold when the Omicron variant hit the country.
“At this time, the Omicron surge has peaked in the National Capital Region and is expected to peak in the different regions of the country in the next two weeks,” they stated in the letter.
“In its wake, this surge will confer significant population protection throughout the archipelago,” they added.
The two also pointed out that a significant number of Filipinos have already acquired immunity from COVID-19, either through infection-acquired immunity or through vaccination.
“We put forward these suggestions as the country’s economic health is now a serious, time-sensitive issue,” Concepcion and Austriaco said in their letter.
They also expressed their belief that opening up the country to the world by easing and simplifying travel restrictions will “redound to many downstream benefits to the economy, especially the micro-, small and medium enterprises,” which make up 99.5 percent of the country’s businesses.
“Among the Asian countries, only the Philippines, Myanmar and Japan have the strictest travel restrictions,” observed Concepcion.
“The rest have either lifted curfews and stay-at-home orders, opened their borders to non-citizens and non-residents, and have allowed all or most commercial flights to the country,” he added.
Austriaco also thinks that Thailand’s “test-and-go” system might also be applicable for the Philippines since “it is now in a better place to do so after having had an Omicron wave.”
Meanwhile, Concepcion reiterated his earlier push to ease the country’s travel restrictions without compromising safety by scrapping facility-based quarantines and instead requiring only home quarantines.
He said travelers who have had COVID within 60 days can be exempted from quarantine to further decongest bottlenecks at quarantine facilities.
He also suggested re-allocating resources used in facility quarantines to “more intensive surveillance of positive COVID cases” among arriving passengers, saying this would generate more useful data in guiding future policy.
“The next few months will be critical in how the country will move on from the pandemic,” Concepcion said.
“I believe the government should set an example and start opening the country to the world. This will instill confidence in the vaccines and encourage more of our countrymen to take them,” he added.