Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion has expressed optimism that the national government would soon grant the private sector’s appeals to reduce the quarantine period for returning Filipino immigrants, their families, and overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) to just two days.
“Reuniting families will bring Christmas in our hearts,” Concepcion said in a statement Thursday, Nov. 18.
The Go Negosyo founder said that this will have been the second Christmas that overseas-based Filipinos would have had to spend away from their loved ones in the Philippines due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Not anymore. I have a good feeling that the facility-based quarantine stay for the fully vaccinated travelers will be reduced,” he said.
Should the national government heed their call, arriving international passengers may have to spend practically only two nights at a facility-based quarantine if they get a negative result on a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test on the morning of the third day. Once they do, they will be released from quarantine.
“This will be such a substantial reduction from spending the usual five days in quarantine even if you are fully vaccinated,” Concepcion said.
“We have been begging the national government to allow testing before departure, testing upon arrival, and shortening the facility-based quarantines. We proposed that there be tests 72 hours before departure, and another test once they arrive, just to be sure that we do not compromise the integrity of our borders. We even pushed for home-based testing for those arriving from abroad,” he recalled.
Concepcion noted that some countries have already reopened their borders to the world. Nations like the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), and Turkey have lenient restrictions, accepting proof of vaccinations or a negative test result. There are also countries like Spain and Greece, which forego tests and quarantines if the visitor is fully vaccinated.
In Asia, the Philippines is among a handful of countries that fully closed their borders to non-citizens and non-residents, banned most commercial flights, and required quarantines and tests for some or all arrivals.
In comparison, its neighbors Singapore, Thailand, and India have opened to non-residents and non-citizens, and have resumed most or all of their commercial flights. However, nearly all still require quarantines and COVID tests for passengers.
“We need to enliven our tourism industry. Our planes need to be in the air, our hotels must be filled,” said Concepcion.
According to him, some balikbayans would rather spend their money in the Philippines than in another country. “We appreciate that. Our MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) are counting on this holiday spending to help them recover from their losses, and it will go a long way to ensuring that 2022 will be a better year for all,” he said.
However, Concepcion reckoned that whatever the national government decides to do, it should be a win-win solution so that as the Philippines welcomes back visitors, it can at the same time prevent the COVID-19 surges that took place in countries that relaxed their restrictions too soon.
“If a compromise on shortening the facility-based quarantine is reached – which I have a good feeling will happen – it will definitely be a win for our returning kababayans who will be traveling from yellow-listed countries such as the US and Canada,” he said.
Concepcion cited data from Philippine Airlines (PAL) and analysis from OCTA Research that show most new COVID cases happen through local transmission and that positivity rates among inbound passengers are very low at 0.3 percent.
“This means that of their average 200 passengers per flight, there would be only 0.6 infected passengers. Even for a full 777 flight carrying 377 passengers, that would translate to 1.13 infected passengers per flight,” he said.
He added that increased vaccination rates, the dip in new COVID-19 cases, and the low positivity rates are also quite encouraging. “We are even trying to intensify the vaccinations in the provinces – where I am sure most balikbayans would like to visit – with our VAX to the MAX initiative,” the Palace official said.
In addition, the private sector is finding ways for laboratories to speed up testing through new technologies in pooled testing which can accommodate as many as 25 samples per test kit. This is seen to further shorten facility quarantine and quickly reunite balikbayans with their loved ones.
“We are trying to vaccinate more and at the same time bring the COVID numbers down. We are trying to make this happen. And I am sure that the government is trying to do what it can to help our kababayans come home so they can spend the holidays with their loved ones here in the Philippines,” he said.
“When that happens, more kababayans can now say, “I’ll be home for Christmas” and truly have Christmas in their hearts,” Concepcion said.