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‘Reconsider Tighter Quarantine Rules’

‘Reconsider Tighter Quarantine Rules’
National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. (in green polo) and other officials welcome arriving overseas Filipino workers from Saudi Arabia at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 on Dec. 1, 2021 amid the continuing pandemic. Photo by KJ Rosales, The Philippine STAR

The Philippines is now in good shape and is probably one of the safest places for Filipinos to celebrate Christmas, according to presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.

With average daily new cases among the lowest in the world and with most indicators showing that the Philippines is unlikely to experience a surge in cases this last quarter, Concepcion believes the country may be the safest place for Filipinos during the holidays.

“Our kababayans should spend Christmas at home, not in a foreign land and definitely not at a quarantine facility,” the Go Negosyo founder said on Monday, Dec. 6.

He appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) to decide and revert the facility quarantine requirements to three days before Dec. 15, so that returning Filipinos who test negative for the virus can be released from quarantine in time for Christmas celebration with their families.

Daily new cases in the country now number only in the hundreds and all other indicators – except intensive care unit utilization rates which are still feeling the remnants of the Delta surge – staying low.

“I personally think the risk is low since we will require PCR (polymerase chain reaction)

 tests to be done 72 hours before departure and then again upon arrival, and then three days stay in quarantine. This should be time enough; in all, it will be a total of six days already,” Concepcion explained.

Confirmed daily cases in the Philippines are one of the lowest in the world. As of Dec. 4, the Philippines had 4.01 daily cases per million people, compared with 364.77 in the US, 658 in the UK and 183.97 in Singapore.

The strategies employed are working, Concepcion said, including the decision to prioritize the National Capital Region (NCR) in terms of vaccinations, as well as locking it down in August.

Closing down the borders is the first in the country’s four-door policy, which includes fortifying the areas surrounding major entry points. The NCR hosts the country’s biggest airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The NCR was also the focus of Concepcion’s “bakuna bubble” strategy, in which only fully vaccinated individuals were granted mobility in areas considered high risk.

Concepcion had also called for a strict lockdown to be implemented in NCR in August, as suggested by OCTA Research.

“Looking at the numbers, it is clear that we are on safe grounds right now,” Concepcion said.

OCTA Research, during an online forum organized by Cardinal Santos Medical Center, echoed Concepcion’s view. “This is the best shape that the Philippines has been since before the first wave,” OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nick Austriaco said.

“It is very different now. We have substantial immunity, our hospitals are much better equipped, the health care workers are more experienced in how to deal with COVID,” he added.

But he stressed the people should not forget to practice minimum public health standards.

“The chances of a surge happening between now and Christmas is very small,” said Austriaco. “I think we can be assured of a relatively healthy, pandemic new-normal Christmas.”

“I don’t think we appreciate the low numbers we are experiencing,” he said, noting that after failing to lower cases below 1,000 when the previous, highly transmissible variants spread in the country, the Philippines is now down to only hundreds of cases a day.

Austriaco explained that the Philippines may have achieved significant natural- and vaccine-induced immunity. He also pointed out that South Korea and Vietnam, unlike the Philippines, have never experienced the Alpha and Beta surges and are now experiencing surges because of the Delta variant.

The Philippines has also maintained its mask mandates and controlled quarantines.

Nevertheless, Concepcion and OCTA Research said the country cannot let its guard down. “The country should focus on what works, namely vaccination, testing, tracing, isolation and observing minimum public health standards. The worst we can do is to be overconfident,” OCTA Research fellow professor Ranjit Rye said.

“Can we handle another lockdown? Definitely not,” Concepcion said, adding that many micro-entrepreneurs are already severely affected by the lockdowns.

He warned that the Philippines has incurred trillions in debt due to COVID-19 spending and that a lockdown would further impede the flow of revenues necessary to pay back that debt and keep the country in good economic standing.

Concepcion also agreed with experts’ call for more data via better genetic surveillance so that the extent of differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals on transmission, severity of infections and hospitalization can be better seen.

“When Omicron is better understood, then we can take a more aggressive stance. We will not act irresponsibly, we are after a safe opening of the economy,” he said.