DOT’s dilemma: How will balikbayans prove they are vaxxed?

In file photo: Repatriated Filipino workers who have gone through the mandatory 14-day quarantine period and who had tested negative for coronavirus disease 2019 wait at Naia Terminal 2 to board government-provided sweeper flights to their respective provinces.

THE difficulty in authenticating vaccination documents of tourists such as balikbayans (homecoming Filipinos) is the main reason government still cannot lift its current 14-day quarantine requirement.

This was the explanation of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat at the Manila Overseas Press Club when asked about the possible lifting of  the quarantine for vaccinated inbound travelers. “I must admit we were banking on the Thai model because they had already reduced the quarantine from 14 days for fully vaccinated to seven days. But unfortunately they increased again their quarantine to 14 days.” Earlier, she had proposed to the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for a “green lane” for vaccinated tourists, cutting their quarantine by half.

She added, “I think the issue now with the IATF is number one, how to authenticate that the vaccination card is real or not? That is not only a concern for incoming [tourists], but also [when they are] going around the country.”

Also, health experts have said, even if a person is fully vaccinated, he can still be a carrier of the novel coronavirus, which causes Covid-19. “So I’ve asked health experts, if they can still be carriers, are they still infectious, or how infectious are they?” The DOT chief cited cases of Filipinos returning from abroad “who have tested positive on the seventh day — they were fully vaccinated.”

The proposal is being discussed in the IATF technical working group, along with her recommendation on Thursday that green lanes also be opened for foreign investors. (See, “IATF deliberates scrapping of quarantine for vaxxed investors,” in the BusinessMirror, June 3, 2021.)

Aliens with retiree’s visa OK’d for entry

As this developed, the IATF on Thursday allowed the entry of foreigners who hold Special Resident Retiree’s Visa (SRRV) “without the need of an entry exemption document,” as per its Resolution 119 dated June 3, The measure was approved upon the recommendation of the Department of Tourism.

Said visa is issued by the Bureau of Quarantine under the retirement program of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA), an attached agency of the DOT. The visa, which may be availed of by overseas Filipinos and foreigners, allows the holder multiple-entry privileges with the right to stay permanently or indefinitely in the Philippines.

DOT Undersecretary Edwin Enrile told the BusinessMirror, said retirees are still subject to the “usual [14-day] quarantine procedures, unless they were vaccinated in the Philippines, in which case they may qualify for the initial phase of the green lanes.”

As of October 2020, the PRA reported there were 70,520 foreign retirees in the Philippines, the bulk of which were mainland Chinese 27,678; South Koreans 14,144; Indians 6,120; Taiwanese 4,851; Japanese 4,016; Americans 3,704; Hong Kong Chinese 1,870; British 1,595; Germans 792; Australians 752; and other nationalities 4,498. (See, “DOT eyes changes in Special Retiree Visa policy for aliens,” in the BusinessMirror, Oct. 22, 2020.)

Quarantine cut for returning residents

Meanwhile, the IATF also decided to shorten the quarantine for Filipinos who were vaccinated in the country, and who leave and return from short trips abroad, which is under the initial phase of government’s Green Lane program.

The IATF said, a person is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, “two  weeks after having received the second dose in a two-dose series, or two weeks after having received a single-dose vaccine.” Only vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization or through a Compassionate Special Permit, are acceptable for the Filipino departing and arriving.

The IATF also required all arriving fully vaccinated individuals “to undergo a seven–day facility-based quarantine upon arrival, with the day of arrival being the first day,” and instructing the Bureau of Quarantine to closely monitor said individuals.

These individuals will be RT-PCR tested “only when Covid-19 symptoms manifest within the duration of the seven-day facility-based quarantine.”

Romulo Puyat clarified that the shorter quarantine is not applicable to balikbayans, “but only to fully vaccinated residents who had to leave for a business trip or for some personal matter then came home.”

Image credits: Nonie Reyes



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