FOR several fully vaccinated individuals, the issuance of Resolution 124-B by the Inter-agency Task Force for the management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) came off as a relief.
In a nutshell, Resolution 124-B eases the travel requirements of fully vaccinated individuals. It defines fully vaccinated persons as "someone who has more than or equal to 2 weeks after having received the second dose in a 2-dose vaccine; or more than or equal to 2 weeks after having received a single-dose vaccine."
Salient points of the resolution include  intrazonal movement of fully vaccinated senior citizens within the areas under the general community quarantine and modified GCQ;  a Covid-19 domestic vaccination card or certificate of quarantine completion showing the holder’s vaccination status shall be sufficient alternatives to any testing requirement which the local government unit of destination may require; and  fully vaccinated individuals who are close contacts of probable and confirmed Covid-19 cases, they may undergo a shortened seven-day quarantine period, provided that the individual remains asymptomatic for that duration. Additional details on the guidelines and full text of the resolution can be downloaded from officialgazette.gov.ph.
While the guidelines were partly well received by fully vaccinated individuals, several local government units (LGUs) have opted not to adopt the guidelines. Reports state that LGUs cited a lack of consultation on the guidelines and standardization issues with the vaccination cards. At present, the vaccination cards in the country differ from one area to another.
Following the backlash, the Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo on July 7, "Bago niyan, ang dati nating resolution ay meron tayong testing... Sa ngayon, ibabalik muna natin doon (testing requirement) hangga't sa maayos natin bukas, matapos ang usapin kung kinakailangan amiyendahan pa itong Resolution Number 124-B."
On July 8, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the IATF-EID issued a new resolution that emphasizes LGUs can still require travelers a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.
“This means that LGUs retain the discretion in requiring RT-PCR testing or accepting duly issued Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) vaccination cards for allowed interzonal travel,” Roque said.
On July 9, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also clarified that Resolutions 101 and 124-B do not contradict each other and remain in effect. Resolution 101 states that LGUs may “require testing as a requirement prior to travel, and such shall be limited to RT-PCR.”
"Ibig sabihin, ‘yung recognition ng fully vaccinated gagawin pa rin ‘yan but for those local governments na meron silang protocol na pagte-test...kung sa tingin nila, based on risk assessment nila, ay kailangan i-test ang kanilang travelers, ay ibinibigay pa rin ‘yung authority sa kanila (This means that LGUs may honor vaccination cards. But based on their risk assessment, LGUs have the authority to require a test from travelers)," Vergeire said.
In Davao City, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said the city will still require mandatory negative RT-PCR test results for fully vaccinated air travel passengers arriving in the city.
“Posible gihapon siyang matakdan og Covid-19 all be it mild or asymptomatic na iyang case pero nagadala gihapon sya or posible gihapon sya mag-carry sa virus. So, angay gihapon nga itesting ang mga travelers (The fully vaccinated person may still contract Covid-19 although the case may be mild or asymptomatic, he or she can still be a carrier of the virus. So it is still necessary to test the travelers),” she said.
Come to think of it, it also not easy for Davao City to adopt Resolution 124-B, considering that it has an ordinance mandating inbound air travelers to present a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours before their departure date to Francisco Bangoy International Airport, also known as Davao International Airport.
The easing of travel requirements for fully vaccinated travelers is a welcome development. However, as new Covid-19 cases remain in the thousands across the country, it is also too much of a risk to drop the RT-PCR requirement. Yes, there are issues with its pricing but it has proven as an effective measure to prevent the disease from spreading further.
There is also the issue of lack of communication between the national government, government officials, and LGUs. They need to communicate better to ensure that there is no flip-flopping of information and implementation.
For now what is clear is, LGUs may still honor the vaccination cards. But upon their prerogative, they may still require the RT-PCR test.