A “no quarantine” pilot test and frontloading of RT-PCR test for returning Filipinos and visitors from North America are being eyed for easier time traveling to the Philippines.

This was among the solutions proposed during a meeting organized by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion to address the difficulty faced by arriving international passengers, specifically those coming from North America.

The meeting included Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez, experts Prof. Ranjit Rye and Fr. Nick Austriaco from OCTA Research, and representatives and officials from local airlines, including the country’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines.

Other solutions raised at the meeting include the frontloading of the testing process to before passengers arrive in the country and expanding international gateways to ease the load off the NAIA terminals.

“I think it is important that we try to bring our Balikbayans home, many are desperate to see their families. NCR’s vaccination rate is almost 80 percent and in terms of reciprocity. The US has been very welcoming to the Philippines, allowing only a negative RT PCR Test and proof of vaccination status as travel requirements. We need to extend the same privilege to America,” Concepcion said.

In a presentation by OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nic Austriaco, data is showing that new infections in the Philippines cannot be attributed to international arriving passengers.

According to Fr. Austriaco, homegrown transmissions account for almost all of the new COVID-19 cases in the country today, with arriving international passengers accounting for only 1.8 cases of the average 6,000 new cases at this time.

Data by Philippine Airlines, which has been tracking positivity rates among its inbound international passengers, also showed that positivity rates among inbound passengers from North America have been relatively low, and that 90 percent of their North America passengers are vaccinated.

“We are receiving inquiries from a lot of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans on when they will be allowed to go home with less restrictions. The embassy is willing to support in the authentication of vaccination records for arriving passengers,” Ambassador Romualdez shared. He also noted that 90 percent of US-based Filipinos have been vaccinated.

Ambassador Romualdez also revealed that a Boston-based company has offered to pilot-test a PCR testing technology which can do pool testing among passengers and have their results available upon their arrival in the country, possibly easing the waiting time of passengers at the NAIA.

Locsin also agreed that frontloading the testing process can help in easing the long lines now being experienced by arriving passengers. He also added the actions of the government have always been based on science and the welfare of Filipinos affected in this pandemic.

“We can consider the compelling reason mentioned which is “reciprocity,” Sec Locsin added.

Tugade, meanwhile, said that it is important to ensure the comfort of passengers with the expected increase of arrivals. He added that he is open to adding more gateways for international passengers, such as Clark, Cebu that could address the bottlenecks at NAIA.

OCTA Research, which recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Go Negosyo, has offered to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives to help refine the process as it is implemented.

Concepcion said that easing the process for returning Filipinos would redound to benefits down the line for many MSMEs. “We need to help them cross 2022 with hope,” Concepcion stressed.

Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2021/10/21/no-quarantine-advance-test-for-travelers-from-north-america-eyed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-quarantine-advance-test-for-travelers-from-north-america-eyed)