PH’s plan to remove COVID-19 testing as a requirement for travel needs careful assessment – WHO official

Published February 23, 2021, 7:59 PM

by Leslie Ann Aquino

An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) believes the plan of the government to remove coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing as a requirement for travel needs to be carefully assessed.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe

“I think it needs to be carefully calibrated on where there is value for removing the requirement for testing,” WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said in a virtual forum on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

“If you are traveling from an area with very low COVID to another area with very low COVID maybe there is an opportunity to relax the need for testing, but that has to be very carefully assessed,” he added.

The WHO official said another important thing to be kept in mind is the threat of the circulation of new variants.

“The fact is we want to minimize the spread of these new variants to areas,” said Abeyasinghe.

“So from this scenario a very careful decision needs to be made,” he added.

Meanwhile, the WHO official also addressed the concerns on the delays in the early rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I must reiterate that the commitments from the Philippines to the COVAX were all fulfilled on time. But there have been delays in finalizing the commitments between Pfizer and the Philippine government,” said Abeyasinghe.

“We believe that the limited quantity of Pfizer vaccines will be shipped… once exchange of letters are completed and requirements are met by  the Philippine government and Pfizer,” he added.

The Philippines was originally set to receive 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines sometime in the middle of February.

Abeyasinghe also revealed that the Philippines has met all the requirements necessary for the accessing of AstraZeneca vaccines.

“There is a range of 5.5 to 9.2 million doses earmarked by AstraZeneca scheduled to arrive in the Philippines. What we are now looking at is accelerating delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines, at least a part of that shipment, to the Philippines,” he said.

“The Department of Health (DOH) has supplied all the letters necessary to COVAX to access the early rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccines. My understanding is there is no further requirement by AstraZeneca for exchange of letters. We are optimistic that before the end of this week we will hear from the COVAX initiative on the delivery date for AstraZeneca vaccines,” he added.

Abeyasinghe, meantime, said that WHO is still evaluating Sinovac and Sinopharm along with many other vaccines.

“That process may be completed within the month of March. However, we are not privy to all information shared by the manufacturers. So we cannot comment on the reported efficacies. WHO currently unable to comment on this. Headquarters [is] still doing evaluation on this,” he said.

The COVID-19 vaccine of China’s Sinovac Biotech was granted Emergency Use Authority (EUA)  by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Monday, Feb. 22.