Philippines scraps pre-departure virus testing for travelers


PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has approved a pandemic task force recommendation to ease quarantine rules for foreigners and Filipinos entering the country, as it seeks to boost tourism recovery. 

Fully vaccinated inbound travelers, whether Filipinos of foreigners, will no longer undergo pre-departure testing for the coronavirus, according to a government memo.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated travelers still must get a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours before the departure from the country of origin.

They should be in a continuous travel to the Philippines, excluding layovers, and should remain in airport premises.

Those who fail to present a negative pre-departure testing with the conditions set should undergo a laboratory-based rapid antigen test upon arrival at the airport.

Under the memo, unvaccinated minors below 15 years should follow the quarantine protocols of their parents or guardians. Unaccompanied minors who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus should follow state rules.

An inbound traveler who tests positive for the coronavirus through rapid antigen testing will need to be quarantined.

Mr. Marcos is banking on the tourism industry to boost economic recovery.

Tourism arrivals in the Philippines has hit 1.7 million as of Oct. 17, exceeding the target for the full year, Tourism Secretary Maria Esperanza Christina Frasco said earlier this month.

Tourism accounted for 12.8% of the Philippines’ economic output in 2019, or about P2.48 trillion. Tourism’s economic contribution fell to 5.2% last year after most countries closed their borders during a global coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Marcos last month did away with the face mask mandate indoors.

Health experts and advocates have said easing mask rules could trigger another wave of infections, especially amid threats from emerging coronavirus variants.

Meanwhile, COVID-9 cases in the Philippines might fall to fewer than 500 this month, the OCTA Research Group said, after the country posted its lowest daily case load since June 28 on Tuesday. 

“Cases could go down to around 500 per day, but it can change if there is a new subvariant,” OCTA fellow Fredegusto P. David said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

On Tuesday, the country posted 676 COVID-19 infections, the lowest daily count since June 28, when 576 cases were reported. Active cases declined to 19,340 from 20,227 on Monday, according to the Health department.

Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel on Tuesday night asked school authorities to encourage the wearing of face masks in classrooms after the Education department said wearing masks would be optional.

“While there are public officials who reject the advice of health experts to impose masking, we urge school officials to still highly encourage the wearing of well-fitting masks because COVID-19 is an airborne disease,” he said in a statement.

Last week, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. signed an order allowing the optional wearing of face masks indoors. Earlier this year, he made face masks optional outdoors.

The Education department on Tuesday said it would follow the president’s order to allow students and teachers to choose whether they would wear masks inside the classroom.

Mr. Manuel said schools might not have safeguards in place, which could be unsafe for students and school staff.

He said full face-to-face classes that will begin this week is long overdue, but the absence of virus testing, low vaccination rates among students and optional masking could be a “recipe for disaster.”

The Education department had ordered both public and private schools to hold full face-to-face classes by Nov. 2. It later amended the order by letting private schools to offer online classes even after the deadline. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Matthew Carl L. Montecillo