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Doctors concerned over revised rules for inbound travelers



Health experts have expressed concern over the government’s decision to scrap the mandatory facility-based quarantine for inbound Filipino travelers.

Starting 1 February, all travelers — except the unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated — are no longer mandated to observe quarantine in designated hotels or government facilities. Instead, they may head straight to their homes, where they are required to monitor themselves for any Covid-19 symptom for seven days, with the first day being the date of arrival.

Infectious disease specialist Benjamin Co warned that the new guidelines may pose risks to public health, noting that only local officials are left to keep an eye on fully-vaccinated returning Filipinos.

“The problem here is that there is no coordinated policy on this,” Co wrote in a tweet Saturday.

“When the patients are released to the local government units, it is now the LGUs responsibility to follow through,” he added.

Prior to the new policy, which was ratified by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) last Thursday, all arriving travelers in the Philippines are required to spend five to seven-day quarantine at designated facilities guarded by policemen.

Fully-vaccinated individuals would also need to undergo swab testing on the fifth day, while unvaccinated or partially vaccinated would take their test on the seventh day.

Health reform advocate Tony Leachon also questioned the timing of its implementation as the Philippines continues to report thousands of new infections daily, which experts attributed to the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

“The IATF should not make reckless decisions,” he told radio station dzMM in an interview.

Leachon also expressed disappointment that the IATF did not make Covid-19 testing mandatory upon the arrival of returning overseas Filipinos.

“They removed the testing [requirement] even if it is an essential pillar of our pandemic response,” he said. “If you don’t have testing requirements, then you won’t know who should be isolated or quarantined.”

He added that the IATF could have implemented the policy at least two weeks after announcing the revised guidelines.

Reacting to criticism, the Department of Health stood by the government’s decision and said that other countries have also eased up their requirements on arriving travelers.

“With our increased vaccination, our general situation has improved,” Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said in a televised briefing.

“We have observed that those who are fully vaccinated need not undergo testing, especially if they have received booster shots. It will also open our doors for economic recovery,” she added.

Co, meanwhile, proposed that the government improve its triaging system or the mechanism prioritizing patients’ treatment according to how urgent they need care, adding that the scheme should not be “dismantled when all is good.”

“The additional problem is that these systems are in place only when the people are needed. Or during a surge,” he said.

The Philippines has so far tallied 3.51 coronavirus infections, of which 230,000 cases remain active.