Philippines DoH to Study Proposal to Relax Air Travel Rules

Jan. 24, 2022

Jan. 23—THE Department of Health (DoH) said on Saturday that it would look into the proposal of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria "Joey" Concepcion 3rd to loosen up the country's Covid-19 air travel restrictions.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during the daily Laging Handa briefing that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) had already instructed its pool of experts to study Concepcion's proposal.

Concepcion, during a Go Negosyo town hall meeting on Friday, recommended a gradual shift from facility-based quarantine to home quarantine for international arrivals, saying it would help revive the country's tourism and airline sector.

"We are not also suggesting that we implement the 'no quarantine' immediately. What I am proposing to our IATF-EID members is a gradual move toward the removal of quarantine in the Philippines, and moving toward home quarantine rather than facility-based quarantine," Concepcion said.

Vergeire said that any loosening of travel restrictions should be based on the four-door strategy of Philippine Covid-19 response, namely border control, quarantine and testing protocols, continued disease surveillance, and localized lockdowns.

In a related development, Dr. Roberto Salvador of the Bureau of Quarantine reported the reopening of additional quarantine hotels and isolation facilities to cope with the increasing number of arrivals in the country.

Personnel from the Bureau of Corrections, Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force were added to the force manning the facilities.

Vergeire said that it was too early to determine the decrease in the number of infections in the National Capital Region (NCR), considering many people exposed to the virus were not taking the more reliable RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test.

"It is too early to say to people to de-escalate to Alert Level 2 kahit na sabihin po natin na bumabagal ang pagtaas ng kaso, bumababa araw-araw, pero alalahanin po natin na may mga kababayan po tayong hindi nagpapa-test, at 'yung iba po nag-aantigen na hindi namo-monitor sa DoH (even if there is a decline in the number of cases, we should remember that there were people who did not undergo testing, or just used antigen tests whose results were not monitored by the DoH), so we are closely monitoring [the situation]," Vergeire said.

National Task Force Against Covid-19 special medical adviser Dr. Teodoro Herbosa earlier recommended the lowering of the alert level classification of the NCR to Alert Level 2, citing a "decrease" in the number of cases and that spike in infections were reported not inside but outside of the National Capital Region (NCR).

The NCR is under Alert Level 3 until January 31.

Vergeire said rise in cases were reported in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Cordillera, Cagayan Valley and Eastern Visayas regions, noting that the DoH was not expecting to see the peak of the surge until the end of January.

Vergeire also cautioned against complacency after OCTA fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said that the evolution of the coronavirus into more lethal variants was highly unlikely after the onslaught of Omicron.

Austriaco explained that the protein spikes of the Covid-19 virus have changed so much after it evolved into the Omicron variant that the creation of new protein spikes would be impossible.

"Let's say you want to make a sixth one, and the sixth one has to be more severe than the first five. What has to happen is the sixth one has to be different from the five, as if it is not different, the body will see it and destroy it, and you need to make a new key, a new spike. And the biologists are saying that Omicron is so different from the other four keys that we cannot imagine a sixth key that will be so different from these five that it will be worse," Austriaco said during a Go Negosyo forum

Vergeire said that multiple experts have warned that the virus evolving into a new and more lethal strain is still possible.

Vaccine Expert Panel Chairman Dr. Nina Gloriani told The Manila Times that a virus' evolution is unpredictable depending on the epidemiological situation it is circulating.

She advised the public to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

"These are experts who have decades of experience with various epidemics, including flu, SARS-1, MERS [and] Ebola, among others," Gloriani said.


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