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Palace: Government to act quickly on travel restrictions vs Omicron variant

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace: Government to act quickly on travel restrictions vs Omicron variant
A passenger sits alone at the NAIA Terminal 1 on May 3, 2020 after a suspension of international flights.
The STAR / Rudy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The government has the option to exclude countries or territories with no local cases of the Omicron variant from the travel ban, Malacañang said Monday, as it claimed that it is acting with a sense of urgency to prevent the entry of the newly discovered pandemic strain.

The Philippines has banned inbound flights from 14 countries with cases of the Omicron variant namely South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.

These countries are now in the government's "red" list of areas considered as "high risk."

Some sectors have asked why Hong Kong, which has reported cases of the new variant, is not yet covered by the travel restriction.

Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said the main consideration in deciding whether to place a country, territory, or jurisdiction in the "red" list is the detection of local cases of Omicron in that area.

"If the case is imported, we would check if it is still in that area, whether they are intensifying or enforcing good quarantine and testing protocols. If we are confident about the quarantine and testing protocols of that country or territory, then we won't red list that country unless we see a high probability that they are missing out the local transmission of Omicron and they have not detected it," Nograles said at a press briefing.

"That’s the reason why Hong Kong is not in the red list. But again, again, again, we are actively monitoring any and all developments happening in all countries, territories, and jurisdictions around the world," he added.

Nograles said the status of a country may change, depending on the reports to be obtained by the government's pandemic task force.
 
"If it is an imported case, then we have the option of retaining the status of the country whether yellow or green. But we can override that if the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) and our experts think the surveillance activities in that country is not that good, if we are not that confident about their genome  sequencing and their detection of local cases of Omicron," he added.

"We are acting with a sense of urgency. The IATF decides immediately. We convene and consult with our experts," he added.

Inbound international travel of all persons, regardless of vaccination status, from or who have been to red list areas within the last 14 days prior to arrival to any port of the Philippines are not allowed. Only returning Filipinos who are part of government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation flights may be allowed entry subject to  testing, and quarantine protocols.

'Four-door' policy 

Nograles said the government is following the four-door policy to prevent the entry of the Omicron or any COVID-19 variant.

The first door refers to restrictions imposed on the point of origin, including travel restrictions while the second door involves quarantine and testing protocols for international travellers arriving in the Philippines.

The third door refers to the efforts to prevent, detect, isolate, treat, and reintegrate COVID-19 cases while the fourth door pertains to granular lockdowns.

"The four doors seek to prevent the entry of Omicron. But we have to remember...we have to prepare for the worst-case scenario," Nograles said.

The IATF has also suspended the testing and quarantine protocols for areas classified as “green” effective immediately until December 15.

Except for “red” list areas, the testing and quarantine protocols for all inbound international travellers in all ports of entry shall follow the testing and quarantine protocols for “yellow” list countries. Travelers from "yellow" list countries with a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure have to undergo a facility-based quarantine until the release of negative results. They also have to be subjected to a COVID-19 test on the third day.

The government has also suspended indefinitely a policy allowing the entry of fully vaccinated nationals of non-visa required countries in the "green" list areas.

"With regard to the suspension of tourists from non-visa required countries, again, let’s take it day to day. Right now, it’s suspended temporarily. Up to when, we will take it one step at a time, day to day monitoring of any and all developments happening around the world," Nograles said. 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC OMICRON VARIANT
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