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DOH: No To Shorter Travel Quarantine

DOH: No To Shorter Travel Quarantine
Passengers arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 on Dec. 1, 2021 as governments around the world tighten travel restrictions due to the threat of new COVID-19 variant Omicron. Photo by KJ Rosales, The Philippine STAR

The Department of Health (DOH) has thumbed down calls for a shorter quarantine period for travelers coming from yellow list countries amid the threat of the new Omicron variant.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the government cannot shorten the quarantine or lift restrictions, citing the need for strict border controls, considering that most variants often come from other countries.

While COVID cases are on the decline, Vergeire said stricter border control still needs to be enforced until evidence shows Omicron poses no real threat to the public.

“Yes, I agree that it (Philippines) is one of the safest places right now because the cases are declining. But we cannot have this for long if we are not going to guard our borders and I think all countries understand this kind of response from the government that needs to prevent its entry so cases continue to decline here,” Vergeire told “The Chiefs” on One News on Monday night, Dec. 6.

“We cannot really say right now definitely in one to two weeks we can say we can lift these kinds of restrictions because up until now we still do not have the complete information on what this Omicron is. We have to know how transmissible it is, we have to know if it is affecting our vaccine so that we can re-strategize once we have the information,” she said.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion previously reported that the private sector is pushing for shorter quarantine to boost the economy.

But Vergeire cited the country’s Delta experience and how the government succeeded in delaying the entry of the variants and thus gave the health care system more time to prepare.

“So that is what we are doing now because we are not saying that it’s not going enter our country. Borders are very porous all over the world and even here in the country, so we know it’s just a matter of time before it enters the country, but at least we have prepared,” she explained.

The DOH, she said, is still awaiting guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), which is currently working with experts across the globe.

She said there are only a few cases of Omicron worldwide that can be included in the study. “But nevertheless scientists and the experts across the globe are studying it and WHO commit-ted that in one to two weeks they will give information so we can all be guided,” she said.

She said the government is trying to implement a more flexible policy to accommodate overseas Filipinos arriving this coming holiday season.

Due to the threat of the Omicron variant, Vergeire said the DOH encourages all accredited laboratories at the port of entry to submit all positive cases for genome sequencing. She said samples are now sequenced at a faster rate.

She also stressed the need to ramp up testing to better determine if there are now cases of Omicron variant in the country. “Because, as we have said, it is really not saying that it will not come here. It’s a matter of time, it will enter but we need to prevent transmission within our communities,” she said.