ALL travelers coming to the Philippines, including Filipinos, and regardless of the country that they came from, are now required to undergo facility-based quarantine upon their arrival and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing five days after arriving in the country.
The new testing protocol, which would take effect on February 1, is laid down in Resolution 96 which was approved and adopted by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on Tuesday night.
“Arriving passengers, regardless of their origin, will be required to undergo facility-based quarantine upon arrival. They will then undergo RT-PCR test on the fifth day from their date of arrival in the country unless the passenger shows symptoms at an earlier date while on quarantine,” said presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who is also the task force’s spokesman.
Roque said that if a passenger tested negative for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), he/she will be allowed to leave the quarantine facility and endorsed to the local government unit (LGU) of his/her destination, which would ensure that the remainder of the 14-day quarantine would be continued.
Anyone who will test positive would be isolated or sent to the hospital, depending on the seriousness of their symptoms.
Roque said appropriate patient management will also be observed as outlined in the guidelines of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Health Omnibus Guidelines on Prevention, Detection, Isolation, Treatment and Reintegration Strategies for Covid-19.
Previously, Filipinos who came from countries with travel restrictions were allowed to enter the Philippines but must undergo a state facility-based quarantine and RT-PCR test upon their arrival.
Also on Tuesday night, the IATF included the Czech Republic in the list of countries covered by travel restrictions due to the confirmed presence of the UK variant in the country. The restriction will be until January 31.
The Philippine government has issued travel restrictions to United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, China, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, the United States, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Austria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, and Oman, because of the presence of new COVID-19 variants in these countries.
Roque said Filipino citizens coming from, or who have been to the Czech Republic, will be allowed to enter the Philippines but must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine and be subjected to an RTC-PCR test on the fifth day after their arrival.
Foreigners arriving directly from Czech Republic as well as those who have been there within 14 days immediately preceding their arrival in the Philippines, will be restricted from entering the country.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said testing travelers on the fifth day is more practical than the previous strategy of testing them immediately upon arrival.
“This is for efficiency in government. This allows us to be more rational in doing things,” said Vergeire.
However, the health official stressed that the new policy provides an exemption for those already manifesting symptoms. “We have a colatilla in the resolution, wherein those with symptoms or have high suspicion of being ill, must be tested outright,” she said.
She also pointed that, under the new policy, isolation must be strictly enforced in order to prevent possible transmission of the virus. “In the resolution, we stressed that there will be no cohorting. They must be in separate rooms. As long as we isolate them, even though they are positive, we are assured that the virus is confined in that room only,” she said.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III assured returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there will be enough quarantine facilities to house them despite an extended period needed for isolation under the revised testing protocol.
In a virtual press briefing, Bello said: “For quarantine accommodation, we have no problem on that. Even when the quarantine period is 14 days, we have had sufficient accommodation. What more now that it is shorter.”
He said even the budget to provide assistance to returning OFWs is sufficient because the DOLAE has been given a P5 billion for the measure.
Roque said the IATF, on Tuesday night, also postponed the easing of the age-based restrictions in areas under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) in compliance with the directive of President Duterte.
The IATF had initially approved the relaxation of age restriction to 10 years old to 65 years old starting February 1 from 15 years old to 65 years old, but the President reversed the decision as he noted the presence of the new variant in the country.
Vergeire said eight Filipino travelers have been found to have been recently in Bontoc, Mt. Province.
“We have reviewed the triaging in the Cordillera Administrative Region and we saw 8 returning overseas Filipinos, who arrived and entered the area recently,” said Vergeire, adding that the discovery is vital in determining where the UK variant that spread in Bontoc may have been sourced.
This was after the initially suspected index case, a returning Filipino from the UK, tested negative for the new COVID-19 variant.
“We will have to get further details, such as their RT-PCR results, so we can identify where the infection may have come from,” said Vergeire.
In addition, the health official said they have also expanded the number of people subjected to contact tracing.
From the previous number of 136 close contacts, she said they are now tracking 615 individuals.
“Our teams in the region were able to do the contact tracing of about 615, composed of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations contacts,” said Vergeire.
On late Tuesday night, the DOH confirmed the presence of a local transmission of the UK variant in Bontoc after 12 cases were discovered in the area. – With Gerard Naval