Healthcare system can handle international arrivals – Nograles

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    THE healthcare system in the country can accommodate returning Filipinos and foreign nationals who can now enter the country and are required to undergo quarantine and testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles yesterday assured the public.

    Nograles, who is the co-chairman of the concurrent Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), said the government is not expecting health facilities, testing laboratories and isolation facilities to be overwhelmed despite the lifting of the travel restriction against the 35 countries where cases of new variants of the COVID-19 have been reported.

    In lieu of the travel ban, the IATF has instead strengthened arrival protocols, such as the mandatory 14-day quarantine of all arriving Filipinos in a state facility or accredited hotel and RT-PCR testing on the sixth day after their arrival.

    The requirements also apply to foreign travelers have been allowed entry, such as those with diplomatic visa, resident visa, investor visa and the like. Foreign tourists, however, are still not allowed in the country.

    “We are ready right now. The health capacity system can take it. But to be on safe side, there is a provision that says that it is subject to maximum capacity of inbound passengers at the port and date of entry,” Nograles said.

    He said that once the Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Quarantine assess that the healthcare capacity will be exceeded, the entry of foreign nationals would be temporarily suspended.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that as of January 31, 59 percent of the 1,900 intensive care unit beds are unused, while 65 percent of the 13,500 isolation beds and 75 percent of the 6,000 ward beds are available.

    Roque said the post-holiday surge that the country had expected did not happen, which led to the relaxation of travel restrictions.

    Roque said despite the increase in cases from October 2020 until the end of December 2020, “we did not see a spike.”

    “There was a resurgence in January, but this was due to many factors like the COVID variants. We saw that we can afford to relax the restrictions and return to work,” he said.

    Nograles said that following the lifting of travel restrictions, arriving foreigners are still required to comply with all of the requirements set by the IATF. Those who will test positive would be moved to an isolation facility or hospital for treatment, while those who will test negative would be endorsed to the local government unit of their destination where they would complete their remaining quarantine in a local quarantine facility.

    Nograles said the cost for the stay in a quarantine facility or pre-booked accredited hotel and COVID testing will be shouldered by the traveler. Only the stay and test of overseas Filipino workers are shouldered by the government.