| Photo by Jaysin Trevino via Flickr/Commons 2.0
Our consulates in the United States have been getting a deluge of inquiries and appeals from Filipino-Americans. They have been asking how soon they can go home to the Philippines without going through facility-based quarantine. They are appealing that they are allowed entry without quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and have a negative RT-PCR test taken 72 hours before arrival.
Under current Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases protocols, fully vaccinated travelers from “green” countries do not need to undergo a facility-based quarantine if they have a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before departing from the country of origin. They will get instruction to self-monitor for symptoms.
The United States is currently under the IATF’s list of “yellow” countries. Fully vaccinated travelers have to undergo a facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative result for the RT-PCR test they will be taking on the fifth day. It means visiting Filipino Americans have to book at least six days of quarantine at an accredited hotel. It could take more if the RT-PCR test results take several days. Given that most have limited vacation time, it is costly and takes away precious time spent with their loved ones and family. Even Americans with businesses in the Philippines want to return. Still, they can’t afford the one-week downtime due to the quarantine requirement.
The number of COVID-19 cases is the primary basis of the IATF’s color classification. As a large country, the US caseload is considered high. However, the number of cases per day in the US has declined by about 22 percent in recent weeks.
Approximately 90 percent of Filipino Americans are fully vaccinated. They are hopeful they could include the US in the list of “green” countries. The clamor is growing, especially since Christmas is fast approaching, so many have not been able to visit their loved ones since the COVID-19 pandemic broke.
“One good news is that a Boston-based company has a new technology that can conduct PCR tests on all passengers before they board their flight. The results are ready when the plane lands in Manila, providing authorities information if any passenger is tested positive.”
Last Thursday, we had our virtual meeting with Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin, USec Dodo Dulay, Transportation Secretary Art Tugade. Fr. Nick Austriaco and Prof. Ranjit Rye of OCTA Research and representatives from local airlines, including flag carrier PAL, were also present. We discussed how the difficulties faced by international travelers, particularly those from the US and Canada, could be addressed.
One good news is that a Boston-based company has a new technology that can conduct PCR tests on all passengers before they board their flight. The results are ready when the plane lands in Manila, providing authorities information if any passenger is tested positive. Secretary Locsin pointed out that frontloading the PCR testing process can help prevent long queues with arriving passengers lining up and waiting for the PCR test done at the airport.
According to Fr. Austriaco, data indicate that new infections in the Philippines cannot be attributed to arriving passengers as homegrown or local transmissions account for almost all of the new COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. The infection rate is a downtrend, especially in Metro Manila, placed under Alert Level 3. And we all know that this is mainly due to the government’s vaccination rollout that continues to be scaled up. More establishments and businesses are allowed to open in a limited capacity.
There is no doubt we have to open our country and our economy for travel. Not only for the tourism sector but the downstream industries as well so we can start moving again. Many countries like Singapore and Australia are already open to vaccinated travelers. They are scrapping quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers from the US.
The “bright light” at the end of the tunnel is fast approaching, with worldwide scientists optimistically predicting the pandemic will soon be under control by early next year. The development of oral antiviral drugs that show great promise in treating patients like molnupiravir from Merck. Heralded as a potential “game changer,” patients will no longer need hospitalization; they can take the medication at home. Pfizer is also developing an oral drug to combat COVID-19, and the results have also been promising.
“With millions dying or getting infected with the disease, we can only thank first and foremost God for giving us the terrific scientists. They developed vaccines to protect us from this deadly disease. Countless Filipinos and I cannot thank all the countries enough, especially the United States, for their generosity in giving us the much-needed vaccines for our people.”
Experts, however, are emphatic that vaccination is still the best protection against COVID-19. Studies by the US National Institutes of Health on vaccine mix-and-match showed the level of antibodies increasing in people who switched vaccine brands for their booster shots, with no notable side effects. With the possibility of COVID-19 becoming endemic and thus will require booster shots to be given yearly like the seasonal flu, the mix-and-match option could help solve vaccine supply issues and keep COVID-19 manageable.
Almost two years now since the pandemic started. With millions dying or getting infected with the disease, we can only thank first and foremost God for giving us the terrific scientists. They developed vaccines to protect us from this deadly disease. Countless Filipinos and I cannot thank all the countries enough, especially the United States, for their generosity in giving us the much-needed vaccines for our people. To me, being at the forefront of seeing closely and working with the US government in getting the vaccines into our country and saving people’s lives is the greatest blessing ever in my entire life.