BALIKBAYANS (homecoming Filipinos) are expected to continue arriving in the Philippines despite the discovery of a new, more infectious Covid-19 variant dubbed “omicron.”
This developed even as the planned entry of vaccinated leisure tourists from Green List countries has been put on the back burner as the Cabinet-level Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved on Sunday moving all countries in the Green List to the Yellow List from November 28 to December 15. The Yellow List indicates moderate risk for Covid-19. Earlier, the IATF banned all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
The IATF on Sunday also decided to keep the prescribed three-day quarantine period for arriving passengers from Yellow List countries, despite early indications the omicron strain was quicker in infecting even vaccinated individuals.
Separate government sources also told the BusinessMirror, “ did not object” to the moving of Green List countries to the Yellow List, as it recognized “no tourists will come here because they will be quarantined on the way back to their countries.” Many European countries were also added to the Red List countries.
The DOT was hoping to jumpstart the recovery of the international tourism market with the earlier approval in principle of vaccinated leisure tourists from visa-free countries on the Green List to enter the Philippines without quarantine.
Asked if balikbayans were inclined to postpone their homecoming this Christmas because of the new Covid variant, Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Jose C. Clemente III said, “I don’t think so. All those coming home are already booked. As long as the quarantine period won’t be lengthened.” Many balikbayan tourists and their families come from the United States and Canada, both on the Yellow List.
Support for IATF
TCP expressed support for IATF’s quick action to limit the arrivals of foreign visitors. “Under the developing circumstances with regard to the omicron strain, we support moves to defer the proposal to exempt those coming from Green List countries from quarantine upon arrival into the country. We must be cautious until we learn more about the nature of the new variant. We support guidelines which would mitigate the entrance of omicron into the country,” he stressed. “This may prolong the resumption of tourism but we would rather be safe than sorry at this point.”
Meanwhile, an IATF insider assured, “Under current Yellow List protocols, if the passenger has a negative result from his predeparture RT-PCR test, he will be tested on the third day of quarantine . If he has no predeparture test, he will have to quarantine for five days and be RT-PCR tested on the fifth day.” A negative result will allow him to leave his hotel and continue his quarantine at home.
The source, however, could not make assurances that the currently accredited medical laboratories at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport already have the capacity to test for the omicron variant. The two accredited labs are Detoxicare Molecular Labs of Philippine Airlines, and the Philippine Airport Diagnostic Laboratory. (See, “Tourism players rap ‘balikbayan’ testing, quarantine release delays,” in the BusinessMirror, November 23, 2021.)
The Philippines has lost over US$7.7 million in tourism receipts since the Covid-19 pandemic as visitor arrivals plunged to 1.48 million in 2020, from a record-breaking 8.26 million just the year before. From January to August 2021, foreign visitor arrivals were recorded at 85,555, a 94-percent plunge from the same period in 2020, according to DOT data.