Philippines revises quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated travelers

Robie de Guzman   •   October 14, 2021   •   518

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government has updated its protocols for inbound travelers from “green lanes” who have completed their COVID-19 vaccination, Malacañang said.

In a statement on Wednesday, President Spokesperson Harry Roque said that effective October 14, fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be required to present a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to their departure from the country of origin.

“Upon arrival, no facility-based quarantine will be required but the passenger is enjoined to self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day,” he added.

For fully vaccinated Filipinos, Roque said they can choose among the following options:

  • Facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative RT-PCR test taken in the quarantine facility upon arrival
  • No facility-based quarantine after getting a negative RT-PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin but the passenger is enjoined to self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day

For the unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or individuals whose vaccination status cannot be independently verified, and those vaccinated but failed to comply with the test-before-travel requirements, they shall undergo a facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative RT-PCR test taken on the 5th day, Roque said.

In the case of foreign nationals, they shall be required to secure hotel reservations for at least 6 days, he added.

Meanwhile, Roque said that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated minor children traveling with their fully vaccinated parent/s or guardians shall be required to observe the quarantine protocols corresponding to their vaccination status.

He added that a parent/guardian shall accompany the child in the quarantine facility for the full term of the latter’s facility-based quarantine period.

For the validation of vaccination status, travelers vaccinated in the country and abroad, and foreigners vaccinated in the Philippines can present either their VaxCertPH digital certificate, Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) / World Health Organization (WHO)-issued International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICV), or the national digital certificate of the foreign government where they were vaccinated.

“In the case of foreigners vaccinated abroad, they can present WHO-issued ICV, or the national digital certificate of the foreign government, which has accepted VaxCertPH under a reciprocal agreement,” Roque said.

Comelec to hold nationwide mock elections before year ends

Maris Federez   •   November 30, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to conduct a nationwide mock election on December 29, 2021 as part of the poll body’s preparations for the 2022 national and local elections.

According to Comelec Deputy Executive Director for Operations Atty. Teopisto Elnas, Jr., mock elections will be done in Metro Manila and six other provinces.

In Luzon, it shall be conducted in the provinces of Isabela and Albay. In the Visayas, it shall be held in the Negros Oriental and Leyte; while in Mindanao, the mock elections will be conducted in Davao del Sur.

In Metro Manila, the selected cities for the mock elections are Pateros, Taguig, and Pasay; while in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, it will be conducted in Maguindanao province.

In total, the mock elections will be done in 34 barangays nationwide and will target 4,800 registered voters.

Comelec spokesperson, Director James Jimenez, said the commission will meet with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) on December 4.

“To discuss the security preparations for the mock elections. Medyo ano kasi malaki yong mock elections, the mock elections will involve real voters and a real board of election inspectors. So there is a lot of concern about safety and security,” he said.

Jimenez added that the IATF is welcome to give its inputs on how the mock elections must be done.

“Hindi pa kasi final we’re just starting to prepare for it but it will be nationwide so that’s mean that it will have a location in Luzon, Visayas,and Mindanao,” Jimenez said. —/mbmf

PH Immigration bureau reminds airline firms: Board passengers only from allowable countries

Robie de Guzman   •   November 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Monday reminded airline companies to carefully check the documents of travelers prior to boarding, to ensure that only those allowed entry may fly to the Philippines.

The bureau issued the reminder after the Philippine government expanded the “Red” list of countries due to the looming threat of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) recently announced entry restrictions for inbound passengers coming from several areas in South Africa and seven countries in Europe that have reported cases of the new coronavirus variant.

The “Red” list now includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. The new policy is effective from November 28 until December 15.

“We are conducting 100% passport inspection to ensure that we see the complete travel history of the arriving passengers,” BI Port Operations Division Chief Atty. Carlos Capulong said in a statement.

Capulong said passengers who are inadmissible but were allowed to board will be denied entry to the country and  will warrant a penalty to the erring airline.

The IATF resolution stated that travelers, regardless of vaccination status, who are coming from or who have been to the Red List areas within the last 14 days prior to their arrival will not be allowed to enter the Philippines.

Only Filipinos returning to the country via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation and Bayanihan flights may be allowed entry. However, they will be subject to the prevailing entry, testing, and quarantine protocols for Red List territories.

Passengers already in transit and all those who have been to the said Red List areas within 14 days before their arrival to the Philippines, who arrive before 12:01 a.m. of November 30, 2021, shall not be subject to this restriction from entry.

“They shall nevertheless be required to undergo facility-based quarantine for 14 days with testing on the 7th day, with day 1 being the date of arrival, notwithstanding a negative RT-PCR result,” the IATF said.

Passengers who have already arrived prior to November 28, and are currently undergoing quarantine pursuant to the classifications of their country of origin, shall complete their respective testing and quarantine protocols.

Passengers, whether Filipinos or foreigners, merely transiting through the Red List areas, will not be deemed as having come from these areas if they stayed in the airport the whole time and were not cleared for entry into such country by its immigration authorities.

“Upon their arrival in the Philippines, passengers covered by the immediately preceding paragraph shall comply with existing testing and quarantine protocols,” the task force said.

The Philippine government also temporarily suspended the resolution providing for the entry of fully vaccinated nationals of non-visa required countries.

“For now, the current general travel restrictions stand. Only Filipinos, balikbayan, and those with long term visas from green and yellow list countries may be allowed entry,” the immigration bureau said.

PH tracing passengers who arrived from countries with Omicron cases – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   November 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said it has started tracing passengers who arrived in the country from areas with local cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant.

DOH Epidemiology director, Dr. Alethea de Guzman said this is to assess them to ensure that they are not infected with the new coronavirus variant.

“Iyong mga galing sa banned countries na naunang nag-arrive ay ngayon ay tinetrace ng ating BOQ, RESUs and DILG para ma-assess sila at ma-test,” she said.

The move is in compliance to the directive of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) for The Bureau of Quarantine and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) with the local government units (LGUs) to identify and locate passengers who arrived within 14 days prior to November 29, 2021, from countries classified as Red.

This is to require them to complete quarantine under a home quarantine set-up for 14 days from date of arrival and undergo RT-PCR if symptoms develop.

The Philippine government has recently expanded the Red List to include Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy. This is in addition to South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique that were earlier placed in the Red List due to the threat of Omicron, which was first detected in the region.

The Red List, which is effective from November 28 until December 15, means that travelers, regardless of their vaccination status, coming from or who have been to the Red List areas within the last 14 days prior to their arrival will not be allowed to enter the Philippines.

Only Filipinos returning to the country via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation and Bayanihan flights may be allowed entry. However, they will be subject to the prevailing entry, testing, and quarantine protocols for Red List territories.

De Guzman said authorities are now reviewing the existing protocols to address the new variant.

“Dahil nga sa pag-deklara ng Omicron as a variant of concern at ito namang Omicron na ito ay papasok hindi galing sa ating, hindi siya lalabas intransically sa Philippines pero malamang manggaling sa ibang bansa, kailangan talaga nating maglagay ng measures para ma-prevent natin, ma-delay natin as long as possible ang pagpasok ng Omicron sa ating bansa,” she said.

The Philippines has not yet recorded any case of Omicron variant based on the ongoing genome sequencing process.

The country has seen a downward trend of coronavirus infections in the past weeks.

On Monday, the Philippines logged 665 fresh COVID-19 cases, pushing the country’s total caseload to 2,832,375. This is the lowest since July 14, 2020 with 634 cases.

The country remains at low-risk classification for COVID-19.

But the DOH warned that this could spike if Omicron variant slips through the country’s borders.

The department said it has recommended to LGUs to shift back to using RT-PCR tests, instead of antigen tests to detect the presence of the Omicron variant.

“There are allegedly some tests that cannot detect kasi meron lang specific na mutations unique to Omicron na pwede lang makita ng certain RT- PCR kits,” De Guzman said.

“Ang ating mga positive samples naman ay mapapadala natin sa ating UP-Phil Genome Center at doon natin makikita kung sila ay may Omicron… Much like iyong mga may kaso ng Alpha, Beta and Delta ,kung mayroon ka ring Omicron walang pagbabago sa magiging management sa inyo ng doktor. Walang dagdag na gamot, bagong treatment. Pareho pa rin ang magiging treatment sa kanila,” she added.

De Guzman also noted that there is no clear evidence yet to say whether Omicron variant causes severe infection or if it more transmissible than other variants of concern.

“Sa ngayon, base sa mga studies, hindi natin nakikita na mas magiging apektado ang isang age group, hindi rin natin nakikita na mas magiging severe ang disease, o mas magiging mataas ang tiyansa ng pagkamatay sa mga may kaso na may Omicron variant,” she said.

“Pero dahil nakakita nga tayo ng maraming mutations dito sa variant na ito kaya itinataas natin ang pagbabantay ang ating response,” she added.

The DOH also reminded the public to take extra care as preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron for people who have previously had COVID-19, as compared to other variants of concern.

Clusters of cases in a certain area should also be monitored and submitted for sequencing to ensure that there are no new virus mutations.

The World Health Organization classified Omicron as a variant of concern last week. Several countries imposed travel restrictions amid increased detection in nations across the world.

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