(UPDATED) Member-agencies of the National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19, including the police and military, have been directed to “ensure strict adherence” to existing arrival protocols for international travelers in all ports as part of efforts to prevent the entry of more Covid-19 cases with highly transmissible variants.
In Resolution No. 122 approved during its meeting Thursday, June 17, 2021, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease reiterated the strict enforcement of existing testing and quarantine protocols for inbound international travelers in all ports of the country, regardless of any specific protocols that may be issued by the local government units (LGUs) to the contrary.
The order was directed at the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Health and the Bureau of Quarantine, Department of Tourism, Department of Transportation, Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).
Also covered by the order are the regional offices and the attached agencies of the national government agencies mentioned. The NTF implements the government’s national action plan against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, which is based on policies recommended by the IATF to the President.
The resolution was passed two days after Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, during a Senate hearing on June 15, invited IATF experts to a meeting with the Cebu Provincial Board to discuss the protocols.
On the same day, she directed local officials to continue implementing Cebu’s testing and quarantine protocols despite a Malacañang statement saying the President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to enforce the IATF protocols in Cebu.
Read: Duterte: Enforce IATF arrival protocols in Cebu
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire confirmed that IATF experts will attend the meeting in Cebu.
“We will be going there. Ito po naman ay isang bagay na gusto natin ding gawin para po magkaroon na ng kalinawan ito pong ating mga discrepancy sa protocols,” she said in a virtual press conference Friday, June 18.
“Everything can be managed through these discussions. We will be hearing them and they will be hearing us, and hopefully, by the end of that day, the matter would be resolved,” she added.
IATF arrival protocols
The IATF arrival protocols, as contained in its Resolution 114, require an arriving international passenger to go into facility-based quarantine for 10 days and undergo a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for Sars-CoV-2 on the seventh day.
Even with a negative test result, the passenger must complete 10 days in facility-based quarantine and spend another four days on home quarantine.
Exempted from this rule effective June 22, 2021 are individuals who were fully vaccinated in the Philippines. They will go into facility-based quarantine for only seven days and will undergo a swab test only if they develop Covid-19 symptoms. Otherwise, they will be released and urged to self-monitor.
Those found positive for the virus will have to comply with DOH protocols for Covid-19 patients.
Vergeire said the latest IATF resolution reiterated that these protocols must be enforced nationwide.
“That is very clear. ‘Yan po ang ipapatupad (Those are the protocols that will be enforced),” Vergeire said.
She emphasized the need to enforce strict border controls to prevent the entry of additional variant cases, especially the Delta variant, or B.1.617 that was first detected in India.
“This is really very important for all of us right now because we are preventing the spread of variants in the country, most specifically the Delta variant which is ravaging other countries. In the UK (United Kingdom), almost 50 percent of the population has been vaccinated but Covid-19 cases are rising because of the Delta variant,” Vergeire said.
“Ayaw po natin na matulad tayo d’yan, that’s why we are implementing strict border controls at hindi po pwede’ng paiba-iba ang ating mga pagpapatupad ng border controls. Kailangan uniform po ‘yan across all of the regions so that we can prevent the entry of this type of variant in the country,” she added.
(We don’t want this to happen to us), that’s why we are implementing strict border controls. Border control measures must be uniform across all the regions to prevent the entry of this variant.)
DOH earlier reported 13 Delta variant cases, all of which were traced to the B.1.617.2 sub-lineage which has been confirmed to be more transmissible and has spread to over 60 countries.
Of the 13 cases, one had died. All cases involved overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), including the crew members of a foreign vessel that came from India.
Cebu’s arrival protocols
Cebu’s arrival protocols, as contained in Garcia’s Executive Order 17 and the original Provincial Ordinance 2021-04, requires returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and OFWs to be swabbed upon arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).
These were revised after Malacañang, through the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), ordered the rerouting of international flights bound for Mactan to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from May 29 to June 5. This was later extended to June 12, based on a memorandum dated June 5 but announced on June 7.
Under the amended Provincial Ordinance 2021-04, arriving ROFs and OFWs will undergo two swab tests, upon arrival and on the seventh day.
The swab test upon arrival will be conducted by the DOH regional office and will be free of charge. While waiting for the test result, the ROF or OFW will be required to check into a quarantine hotel for a maximum of three days.
If negative for the virus, the ROF or OFW who are residents of Cebu will be allowed to proceed to his/her LGU and go into facility or home quarantine for the remainder of the 14-day quarantine. The LGU will conduct the second swab test on the seventh day.
Those who are not Cebu residents will also be allowed to proceed to their destinations after a negative test result and undergo another swab test on the seventh day, which will be conducted by the LGU.
Passengers who are found positive upon arrival will be required to comply with DOH protocols for isolation of Covid-19 patients.
These protocols are also contained in Garcia’s memorandum that was dated May 20 but was released on June 5.
During the DOH press conference, Vergeire again cited international and local experts as well as guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reiterate the rationale behind IATF’s protocols.
In an advisory on May 3, 2021, CDC stated: “You may have been exposed to Covid-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still be infected and spread the virus to others. You and your travel companions (including children) pose a risk to your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you travel.”
The 14-day period is equivalent to the known incubation period of Covid-19.
Vergeire said the RT-PCR test for the Covid-19 virus becomes more accurate on the sixth to seventh day from infection.
Earlier, IATF Technical Advisory Group member Dr. Edsel Salvana said the cases diagnosed on the seventh day testing are 50 percent higher than those diagnosed on arrival.
On the quarantine policy, Vergeire said the CDC had also shown evidence that the residual risk, or the risk of transmitting the virus even after a person goes into quarantine, goes down as the individual stays longer in quarantine.
Based on the CDC guidance, Vergeire said the residual risk is around 3.0 percent on the seventh day of quarantine and goes down to less than 1.0 percent on the 10th day
“That is the evidence that we use for the 10 plus four (days of quarantine) - 10 days of (facility) quarantine, seventh day testing, discharge on the 10th day if negative, and LGU to monitor for four additional days,” Vergeire said. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)