Saturday, September 25, 2021

DOT pushing for removal of swab test rule for fully vaxxed domestic travelers

MANILA. In this photo taken in May 2021, a health worker conducts a Covid-19 swab test on a resident as they monitor cases at a village in Quezon City. (File)

DEPARTMENT of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Monday, June 28, 2021, said they have proposed the removal of the swab test requirement for fully vaccinated domestic travelers.

The proposal has been presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the policy-making body for the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response.

“This is still under discussion. We will meet with the IATF this (Monday) afternoon,” Puyat said in a Laging Handa briefing Monday.

She said a lot of workers in the tourism industry have been vaccinated. Workers in quarantine hotels are categorized as priority group A1 while other tourism workers are under group A4. Both groups are eligible to receive a vaccine.

“This is really important. The more people who are vaccinated, the more that we are protected and (Covid-19) cases will remain low...Travel would be allowed all over the country as more people are vaccinated,” she said.

The IATF on June 1 allowed residents of NCR Plus to undertake leisure trips to areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ). Although the age restrictions in leisure travel have been lifted, a negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result is required from travelers who are under 15 or over 65 years old.

The DOT has also extended until Dec. 31, 2021 the implementation of a program that subsidizes half of the cost of an RT-PCR test at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) in Quezon City.

Negotiations are ongoing for the extension of the same program at the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), but Puyat said this would depend on the availability of funds.

From January to June 23 this year, Puyat said the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) has approved 43,351 applications for subsidy.

Local tourists with confirmed reservations in a DOT-accredited facility may apply for the subsidy. Puyat said applications from those who have booked rooms at five-star facilities are not likely to be approved since they could afford to travel.

Puyat said the DOT is open to partnerships with other government hospitals or Covid-19 testing centers, as long as the rates would be similar to those of the PCMC and UP-PGH.

A swab test costs P1,500 at the PCMC and P1,800 at the UP-PGH. Travelers who are granted the 50 percent subsidy would have to pay only P750 at the PCMC and P900 at the UP-PGH.

She said they were in close coordination with the local government units (LGUs) to ensure that travelers with fake swab test results are apprehended.

So far, Puyat said the resumption of tourism activities has not caused any Covid-19 outbreak, but she emphasized the need to strictly implement the minimum public health standards in tourist destinations. These include proper wearing of face mask and face shield, and physical distancing.

The DOT is pushing for open air tourism sites such as farms and open cultural sites. The department is also pushing culinary tourism.

“Those who want to travel are looking for open air, open space, and cultural heritage. So we are pushing for nature-based (destination), cultural sites, farms and culinary tourism,” she said.

Puyat said there are LGUs that are still hesitant to reopen their tourism industry.

“We respect their decision. We are talking with them to find ways for them to reopen without compromising health and safety,” Puyat said. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)


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