Philippines to allow entry of more foreigners with valid visas starting Feb. 16 — Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   February 5, 2021   •   1877

MANILA, Philippines – The list of foreign nationals allowed entry to the Philippines has been expanded, Malacañang announced on Friday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) on Thursday decided to ease restrictions on foreigners with visas issued as of March 20, 2020 and are still valid and existing at the time of entry.

Also allowed to enter the Philippines are holders of valid and existing Special Resident and Retirees Visa (SRRV) and Section 9 (A) visas as long as they present an entry exemption document to the Bureau of Immigration upon arrival.

Arriving foreign nationals should have pre-booked accommodation for at least six nights in an accredited quarantine hotel/facility and be subject to COVID-19 testing at the quarantine hotel/facility on the sixth day from date of arrival.

Roque also said that entry of foreign nationals will subject to the maximum capacity of inbound passengers at the port and date of entry.

The updated policy shall take effect on February 16, he added.

“This expanded list, however, is without prejudice to existing immigration laws, rules and regulations,” the Palace official said.

“The Commissioner of Immigration has the exclusive prerogative to decide on waiver or recall of exclusion orders for all foreign nationals allowed to enter the country under relevant IATF resolutions,” he added.

Philippines eases quarantine rules for fully vaxxed travelers, returning Filipinos

Robie de Guzman   •   January 28, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Fully vaccinated nationals of non-visa requiring countries under Executive Order (EO) No. 408, series of 1960 will soon be allowed to enter the Philippines, Malacañang said Friday.

In a press briefing, acting presidential spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that starting February 10, foreign nationals who are holders of passports valid for at least six months at the time of their arrival, and with tickets back to their home countries or next country of destination will be allowed to enter the Philippines.

This policy essentially allows fully vaccinated international visitors traveling for business and tourism purposes as long as they came from countries specified under the EO. The list can be viewed here.

These passengers will also be required to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 recognized under existing IATF regulations, including World Health Organization International Certificates of Vaccination and Prophylaxis, VaxCertPH, and national/state digital certificate of the foreign government which has accepted VaxCertPH under a reciprocal arrangement unless otherwise permitted by the IATF.

They shall also observe the existing testing and quarantine protocols in place for fully vaccinated international arriving passengers.

Nograles said children below 18 years of age are exempted from the requirement of full vaccination and providing proof of vaccination status prior to their flights.

Fully vaccinated nationals shall not be included in the arrival quota set by the Department of Transportation and its One-Stop-Shop, he added.

Nograles also announced that starting February 16, only fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed to enter the Philippines.

He, however, clarified that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Filipinos would still be allowed to return home.

“Pagdating sa Feb. 16, absolutely whether EO 408, or whether non-EO 408 or whether ito yung mga foreign nationals na for certain exemptions natin because of their expertise or their technical expertise or knowhow na binibigyan natin ng pahintulot na pumasok, basta absolutely by Feb 16 ang pwede lamang pumasok na foreign nationals ay fully vaccinated po lamang,” he said.

Nograles said this quarantine and testing protocol will be implemented until a new variant of concern emerges.

“Pag-suspend natin ng country classification, red, yellow, and green is temporarily suspended unless we need to bring it back due to and emerging variant of concern that has to be made very clear,” he said.

“This is something that we will continue to monitor. But as of today and as of the moment, we are seeing that it is widely omicron and we are only accepting fully-vaccinated. We are hoping that we could ramp up vaccination for more of our kababayans,” he added.

IATF urged to begin pandemic exit plan for Philippines

Robie de Guzman   •   January 27, 2022

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.

Concepcion wants Philippines’ COVID-19 quarantine rules revisited

Robie de Guzman   •   January 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Friday suggested for the government’s task force on COVID-19 response to revisit its quarantine protocols for international travel in light of recent developments in the COVID-19 situation in the country.

In a statement, Concepcion said quarantine restrictions for international travel should be re-examined, noting that other countries, particularly Switzerland and Thailand, have started easing restrictions to allow entry of international visitors.

 “It is quite understandable that public health should be the primary concern of governments. But as COVID itself changes, policy should be also open to re-examination,” he said.

Specifically, Concepcion believes that facility-based quarantines and the use of RT-PCR tests need to be revisited.

“The entry requirements are so extensive and complicated that they put the country out of the reach of international visitors, and even our returning kababayans,” said Concepcion.

He added that when it comes to air travel, the focus should be on testing, and testing fast and accurately.

“The goal is to find out if a passenger is infected, and if not, to send him on his way as fast as possible and not create bottlenecks,” he said.

Thailand recently announced that it will resume its quarantine-free visa program for vaccinated visitors. Switzerland, meanwhile, will not require pre-arrival COVID-19 tests for vaccinated or recovered visitors.

Concepcion also noted that the United States does not require specifically the use of RT-PCR tests or facility quarantines for arriving passengers.

“Inbound passengers to the US only need a negative result from an antiviral test, not necessarily an RT-PCR, taken no more than 24 hours before departure. Rapid tests are acceptable as long as they meet the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” he said.

“This remains true even following the emergence of the Omicron variant. The US does not require facility-based quarantines for international passengers arriving in the US,” he added.

Currently, the Philippines is implementing travel conditions depending on the passenger’s point of origin and vaccination status. All arriving passengers must test negative from an RT-PCR taken 48 hours before departure. Except for fully vaccinated travelers coming from the 32 countries in its Green list, all passengers get swabbed again after having spent at least five days in facility-based quarantine.

Concepcion believes that the Philippines “can do the job with only an antigen test taken 24 hours prior to departure,” saying that “testing closer to the time of departure using an antigen test is more practical than waiting for RT-PCR test results.”

He said RT-PCR test results take longer to deliver results and are more expensive.

As an additional safeguard, he suggested conducting second antigen tests upon arrival, and home-based quarantines instead of facility-based quarantines to allow returning Filipinos to spend more time with their family.

“Our OFWs can’t afford to spend their hard-earned money and precious time to spend days in facility quarantine,” he said.

“Other countries seem to have already accepted the fact that COVID is here to stay. Maybe it’s time we practice living with COVID or else the Philippine economy will suffer and along with it, its MSMEs,” he added.

Concepcion said that the survival of businesses and industries in the Philippines depends largely on government policy.

“This is also quite true of other industries that are downstream from air travel, not the least of which are the tourism and hotel and restaurant sectors. Many MSMEs depend on the trickle-down business generated by air travel,” he said.

“Our economy can’t shut itself from taking any more lockdowns as our country’s debts continue to mount. Time is not on our side,” he added.

Concepcion said the country should move on after taking the necessary steps by vaccinating and boosting the population.

“But these are baby steps. We need to take that leap of faith. While vaccines are the solution to keeping a healthy nation, learning to live with COVID will revive our economy and bring life back to our MSMEs,” he said.

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