Travel restrictions eased for Pinoys coming home for medical emergencies

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    FILIPINOS and their foreign spouses who are coming from countries affected by the new variants of the COVID-19 virus may be allowed entry to the country if they are coming home for a medical emergency, the National Task Force on COVID-19 said yesterday.

    The Philippine government has so far imposed travel restrictions until the end of January against foreign travelers from 32 countries with confirmed cases of the four new variants of the virus to prevent local their transmission and stop the country’s pandemic scenario from getting worse.

    National Task Force spokesman Restituto Padilla, in an interview with ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo, said exempted from the travel restriction are Filipinos who are coming home for medical emergencies. They, however, need to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine regardless of the result of their RT-PCR tests.

    Asked if the foreign spouses and other family members of returning Filipinos would be allowed entry, Padilla said exemptions will be entertained, like those who are visiting the country for urgent medical purposes.

    “Medical emergencies are allowed. There are provisions in the guidelines issued that if there is an emergency, especially if it’s medical, they might be allowed if they coordinate with authorities,” he said.

    Padilla, meanwhile, advised Filipinos who have limited vacation leaves to refrain from returning to the Philippines yet as they might only use their vacation days under quarantine as the country implements a mandatory strict 14-day facility-based quarantine upon arrival in the airport.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Inter-agency Task Force for Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF) has “approved in principle” a “new normal” quarantine level for areas with no transmission or new cases of COVID-19 for the past weeks.

    Roque said the guidelines including the do’s and don’ts in the areas to be placed under the new normal have yet to be finalized.

    “The IATF has approved the declaration of a new normal. These are areas that do not have new transmission for a long time already. So we can now hope that there would be an end to this COVID-19 pandemic),” he said

    Asked if the new normal can already be imposed starting February, Roque said the timeline has yet to be discussed.

    UK VARIANT

    Seven co-passengers of the 29-year old male from Quezon City who is the country’s first UK variant case remain unaccounted for amid the ongoing contact tracing activities of the government, according to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

    “We were able to contact all of them except for 7 persons, who we cannot locate the address and the contact numbers,” said Vergeire.

    She said they have already sought the help of contact tracing czar, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, in finding the seven individuals.

    Earlier, the DOH warned those who will refuse to cooperate in the contact tracing efforts that they could be held liable for violating Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

    On the other hand, the health official said they have already contacted, assessed, tested, and quarantined the other 207 close contacts of the patient. They include six household members, 49 health staff who attended to the case, and 152 co-passengers of Emirates Flight No. EK 332.

    “We are currently awaiting the full report on the results of those tested with RT-PCR,” said the DOH in a separate statement.

    And aside from waiting if they are positive of COVID-19 or not, Vergeire said they have also ordered the genome sequencing of the said samples.

    “All of these cases among those traced that will be found positive, were sent for genome sequencing. They are already being processed,” said the official.

    Vergeire said results from the Philippine Genome Center could be out by Tuesday or Wednesday.

    CONTACT TRACERS

    Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya assured the public that the decision of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to rehire only 15,000 out of the 50,000 contact it recruited last year under the Bayanihan 2 law will not compromise the government’s contact tracing capability.

    Malaya said local government units throughout the country have over 200,000 contact tracers at present who can continue with contact tracing efforts.

    “The contact tracing capacity and the contact tracing manpower of the government is very strong,” said Malaya, adding that the country currently has 255,854 contact tracers, including the rehired 15,000 contact tracers.

    “We have more than enough contact tracers already operating in the country,” Malaya also said, adding that the current number is already way above the 135,000 contact tracers recommended by the Department of Health.

    In a statement, Malaya said: “We already have 29,611 contact tracing teams which is composed of 255,854 contact tracers nationwide. Even without the DILG hiring, we already have sufficient number of contact tracers.”

    Citing DOH standard, Malaya said the country needs only 135,000 contact tracers.

    “With our number of CTs (contact tracers), we have exceeded DOH standard. Per the DOH, the ideal contact tracer to population ratio is 1:800 so to fully cover 108 million Filipinos, we actually need a total of 135,000 contact tracers only.”

    Malaya said National Capital Region (2,381), Central Luzon (1,504), and Central Visayas (1,417), which he said are COVID-19 “high risk areas”, topped the list of regions with the highest number of rehired contact tracers.

    “We retained 30 percent of the (50,000 contact tracers). The LGUs have their own contact tracers. What was reduced only is the number of contact tracers from the DILG,” he said. – With Gerard Naval and Victor Reyes