Senator Nancy Binay on Wednesday, May 26 said she approves the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) plan to shorten the quarantine period for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning Filipinos who have been fully vaccinated, verified and cleared by health authorities of coronavirus (COVID-19) disease from their countries of origin.
However, Binay she disagrees with the plan to provide a “green lane” and provide the same protocol for foreign tourists, saying she believes the Philippines is still not ready to open its borders to international visitors.
“I believe that a shortened quarantine period may be adopted as long as these are coordinated with the authorities—but the entry of foreign tourists is a different issue,” Binay said.
“There are many things we still need to discuss and draft guidelines for than consider the entry of vaccinated foreign tourists here in our territory. How can we entertain leisure travel if we still have many (COVID-19) cases and we still haven’t addressed public health issues like testing, lack of vaccines, poor contact-tracing systems, low inoculation rate, vaccine hesitancy, etc.?” she pointed out.
While she is open to proposals to reopen the tourism industry, Binay said she doubts the country is ready to entertain foreign travelers to the Philippines.
“I understand the need to kickstart the tourism industry—we really need to get the tourism rolling—but this is not the time to entertain foreign tourists,” stressed the senator, who chairs the Senate Tourism Committee.
“Are we ready for that scenario where huge airplanes coming from mainland China entering and landing in NAIA, Cebu or Boracay? Even though they have already been vaccinated, it is still possible that many of them would be asymptomatic and they could still be carriers. Let’s be realistic,” she appealed.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said on Tuesday the proposal to accord returning OFWs and Balikbayans who have already been vaccinated fully against the coronavirus is still under discussion.
Romulo-Puyat said this plan along with the proposed “green lane” for foreign tourists will also be raised with other concerned government agencies.
But Binay insisted the Philippines is still not prepared to accept foreign tourists, pointing out that the Philippines lags behind other countries like Hong Kong and Thailand, in terms of putting in place health safety nets.
“These countries are so much advanced in terms of rate of vaccination, testing and technology-driven contact-tracing,” she said.
“DOT’s plan is good but the reality is international travel for leisure will still be restricted this year,” she lamented.
She said the only time the government can be confident in opening the country’s doors is when the systems are already in place and are fully working.
“We still have a laundry list of pandemic-related problems that need to be resolved first. At the moment, we might need to focus first on seriously growing the domestic market, and shift to low risk, locally sustainable niche markets,” she stressed. [Hannah L. Torregoza]