'Pre-Omicron' protocols pushed for arriving international travelers

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1/25/2022 2:30:00 PM

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion has made an aggressive pitch for the government to return to “pre-Omicron” protocols, especially when it comes to arriving international travelers.

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(Ali Vicoy/ File photo/ MANILA BULLETIN)“We should revert back to the three-day quarantine for the fully vaccinated, which was approved and implemented prior to Omicron,” Concepcion said in a statement Tuesday, Jan. 25, referring to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant that triggered the most recent surge of cases in the country.

The Palace official recently organized a meeting with experts from OCTA Research in order to find ways on how the Philippines can start moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic.Concepcion further proposed that the country ditch facility-based quarantine in favor of home quarantine for fully vaccinated individuals. “The unvaccinated will still have to go through the usual quarantine and testing protocols,” he noted.

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Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion has made an aggressive pitch for the government to return to “pre-Omicron” protocols, especially when it comes to arriving international travelers. (Ali Vicoy/ File photo/ MANILA BULLETIN) “We should revert back to the three-day quarantine for the fully vaccinated, which was approved and implemented prior to Omicron,” Concepcion said in a statement Tuesday, Jan. 25, referring to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant that triggered the most recent surge of cases in the country. The Palace official recently organized a meeting with experts from OCTA Research in order to find ways on how the Philippines can start moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic. Concepcion further proposed that the country ditch facility-based quarantine in favor of home quarantine for fully vaccinated individuals. “The unvaccinated will still have to go through the usual quarantine and testing protocols,” he noted. He said the view is that the Philippines should ease quarantine stays for arriving overseas passengers to three days. Moreover, vaccinations should be further incentivized by granting more mobility and exemption from mandatory testing for on-site workers. “The Philippines’ economic health is now a serious issue. Whatever we decide now will impact the country’s economy for years to come,” Concepcion said. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco of OCTA Research said that these protocols were already in place and approved by the government before the Omicron surge. However, they were put on hold. The molecular biologist believes that the National Capital Region (NCR) and the rest of the country will have moved past the Omicron wave by the end of February, paving the way for the government to re-examine its travel protocols. Austriaco thinks the Philippines should follow Thailand’s “test-and-go” system where arriving passengers only need to spend one night in a hotel while they await their COVID-19 test results. Furthermore, Concepcion believes that arriving passengers who have had COVID within 60 days should be exempted from quarantine and should instead present a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR) test showing this. “We all know remnants of the virus can still linger on creating false positives,” he said. Meanwhile, OCTA’s Dr. Michael Tee explained that quarantines are meant to catch the entry of variants of concern, which have already managed to enter the country anyway. “We don’t see any variants of concern at the moment,” he said. Tee believes that the money spent on facility quarantines would be better spent on monitoring positive cases as the information gathered from such an activity would be useful in crafting policy. He also believes that the economic value produced by micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and airlines is far greater than that produced by hotel quarantines and testing. It was also proposed that quarantines be offloaded from the national government to the provincial governments as this would further ease bottlenecks. Flag-carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) reports that 30 to 40 percent of returning Filipinos who arrive in the NCR eventually connect to the provinces. Tee said any move to further ease quarantines should be backed by data. He further said that there might be no need anymore to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers as long as there is credible testing in place. “We are doing everything possible to convince the unvaccinated, but in the end it will be their choice and they will have to bear the consequences that come with staying unvaccinated,” Concepcion said.