Need for globally-accepted vaccination card must be addressed quickly

The Hong Kong government’s initial hesitancy on honoring vaccine cards issued in the Philippines – thereby delaying the entry of thousands of Filipino domestic workers – underscores the urgency of coming up with a globally-accepted certificate that Filipinos could carry with them while traveling abroad – and be assured of safe, hassle-free passage.

Even as Hong Kong media reports indicate that foreign domestic workers presenting acceptable vaccination cards from their home countries could be readmitted within this month, concerned government agencies are still expected to act with dispatch.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. has posted on social media that he was considering “formally” asking Chief Executive Carrie Lam regarding the recent action taken by her officials on refusing to accept Philippine vaccination records for entry into Hong Kong.

He has expressed confidence that the Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will be able to satisfactorily address Hong Kong’s concern on “one-source” validation of vaccination cards.

Hong Kong media reports that officials are engaging their counterparts in the Philippines in dialogue toward recognizing a credible central database, thereby meeting stringent global norms such as those established by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The global pandemic has already affected the supply of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, fueling an increase in average monthly wages from HK$5,000 to a range of from HK$6,000 to HK$8,000.  This is an offshoot of flight restrictions imposed last April and June on travelers from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Starting last July 15, the Bureau of Quarantine began issuing yellow vaccination certificates with a unique QR code that could be used by local and international authorities in verifying authenticity.  This is an interim measure while awaiting the rollout of the DICT-issued vaccine certificate.

The DICT has established a Vaccine Information Management System (VIMS) that is relying on inputs from the local governments that have issued certificates to those who were inoculated in their vaccination centers.

The Hong Kong situation is also an eye-opener to what could be experienced by overseas Filipino workers in other countries – or what awaits Filipino international travelers in other ports of entry as soon as quarantine measures are eased.

This latter scenario is, of course, based on an expectation that as more people are vaccinated and immunized not just in the Philippines but in other countries as well, this would pave the way for the resurgence of global economic activity.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila and the country’s other economic hubs have been locked down to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 transmission that is apparently caused by the Delta variant.  On August 11, more than 12,000 new cases were reported; many hospitals were nearing the upper limits of their critical care capacity.

On a parallel track, authorities are fast-tracking vaccination efforts while also intensifying prevention, detection and contact tracing activities.  Distribution of ayuda or financial help to needy families is also ongoing as anxious citizens resume day-to-day efforts to cope with a crisis that tests the mettle of even the most resilient.