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Opinion

Quarantine relaxed amid risk of variants

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

Filipinos vaccinated abroad and foreigners who had been deterred from visiting the Philippines by what they said were overly strict quarantine rules can now resume packing their bags, except if they will be coming from restricted countries.

Starting today, quarantine rules will be relaxed for all travelers fully vaccinated in the Philippines regardless of their travel history, and for those fully vaccinated abroad who had stayed exclusively in “green” (low-risk) countries in the 14 days before their arrival.

It used to be that only travelers fully vaccinated in the Philippines were allowed a shorter (seven days) and less restrictive quarantine in a government-approved hotel or facility.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two or more weeks after receiving the second dose in a two-dose vaccine series, or two or more weeks after a single-dose vaccine (such as Janssen of Johnson&Johnson).

The new guidelines are contained in Resolution 123-C issued Monday by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) which provides “green lanes” for fully vaccinated individuals traveling to the Philippines.

The resolution was approved June 28 and signed for the task force by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, IATF chair, and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, his co-chair.

At the same time, however, the IATF extended until July 15 the travel restrictions on India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and Oman in view of the reported presence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in those countries.

Arrivals who qualify for the shortened seven-day quarantine must undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests on the fifth day of the quarantine, with day one as the date of arrival. The fifth-day testing requirement will be reviewed after 30 days.

If the RT-PCR test yields a negative result, the individual shall complete the seven-day facility-based quarantine, but if found positive, he shall follow the prescribed isolation protocols.

Incoming travelers with incomplete vaccination must undergo a 14-day quarantine with the Bureau of Quarantine monitoring them for seven days for COVID-19 symptoms. After the seven days, they are required to monitor themselves for symptoms in the next seven days.

Upon completion of the seven-day quarantine, the BOQ shall issue a certificate indicating the individual’s vaccination status.

The IATF resolution says that those vaccinated abroad must carry their official documentation of full vaccination validated through the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO), or present their international certificate of vaccination, whichever is applicable.

IATF in COVID-19 balancing act

Balancing various pressures, the IATF said “the continued implementation of proactive measures and restrictions must be put in place to slow down the surge in COVID-19 cases, stop further spread of variants, buy time for the health system to cope and to protect more lives.”

The IATF kept until July 15 its travel restrictions under its Resolution 123 on Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to help prevent the entry of the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus detected in those countries.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega stressed in a presscon Monday the need to intensify border control and the monitoring of arrivals. He said 17 cases of Delta variant had been identified through genome sequencing, but that no local transmission has been recorded.

Among the critical entry points being watched are Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Dumaguete, Iloilo, General Santos, Legazpi, Naga, Tuguegarao and Zamboanga.

COVID-19 cases have been waning in Metro Manila, but some areas in Eastern and Western Visayas, Caraga, Zamboanga peninsula, Davao Region and Soccskasargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat Sarangani and General Santos) have been classified as “high-risk.”

Seeing that it will likely fail to keep its promise to achieve herd immunity (some 70 percent of the population vaccinated) by Christmas, the administration has lowered its sight to a so-called “population protection” that entails inoculating only some 50 percent of the people.

Care for mixed vaccine cocktail?

If it’s time for your second vaccine dose but the brand used for the first is not available, can another one be used? Then there are those who had China-made Sinovac for their first dose but want to shift to a Western brand for the second shot.

Will a mix-and-match approach to COVID vaccines work? Does it pose any serious risk to the vaccinee?

A BBC News report two days ago said using different brands for first and later doses appears to give good protection against the pandemic virus.

The “Com-Cov trial” reported by BBC looked at the efficacy of either two doses of Pfizer, two of AstraZeneca or one of them followed by the other.

“All combinations worked well, priming the immune system,” it said, quoting experts as saying. “This knowledge could offer flexibility for vaccine rollout.”

BBC went on: “The trial results also hint that people who have already received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine could have a stronger immune response if they were given a different jab as a booster if recommended in the autumn.

“The UK’s deputy chief medical officer, Prof. Jonathan Van-Tam, said there was no reason to change the current successful same-dose vaccine schedules in the UK, however, given vaccines were in good supply and saving lives.”

Spain and Germany are offering the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines as a second dose to younger people who have already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, following concerns about rare but serious blood clots, rather than about efficacy.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

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