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Give our balikbayans a chance to come home this Christmas. Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion made this appeal to the national government as restrictions continue for travelers coming from North America, which is home to many Filipino OFWs, immigrants and their families.
The US and Canada are not included in the Philippines’s Green-listed countries, requiring inbound travelers from these countries to undergo a COVID test after five days at a quarantine facility. The quarantine time has been cited as the primary reason most travelers from North America put off their travel plans to the Philippines this holiday season.
Concepcion has proposed that travelers coming from North America be tested before boarding and then tested at home or at a quarantine hotel once they arrive in the Philippines. The proposed system will necessitate confirmed schedules from the passengers.
“Testing before departure and testing upon arrival with no quarantine required will be beneficial for a lot of balikbayans wanting to see their families. They can do testing at their homes if within NCR or in a facility for one day if they are from other places,” said Concepcion adding “We can do this to give peace of mind to our returning Filipinos and their loved ones. Waiting for a negative test result is a small price to pay compared to this reassurance”.
Data from the country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, show that positivity rates among inbound passengers from North America have been relatively low. OCTA Research’s Fr. Nick Austriaco’s risk assessment of additional COVID cases in the country last October found that, based on an average of 6,000 swabs performed on inbound passengers per month, there was a 0.9 percent positivity rate, translating to 54 cases per month or 1.8 cases per day, which is very low compared to local transmissions of the virus.
OCTA Research also observed that local transmissions account for almost all of the new COVID-19 cases in the country today, and that the fact that there have been no variants of concern since Delta should be considered in assessing the risk involved in receiving travelers from North America.
The National Capital Region has vaccinated 85+% of its target population, and the number of new cases has dropped to an average of 600 cases per day, according to OCTA Research. The average daily attack rate (ADAR) in the NCR is also down to 4.45 per 100,000 individuals, and the reproduction rate is down to 0.43 in the capital region.
“The increased vaccination rates and the dip in new COVID-19 cases should be reason enough for the IATF to consider easing restrictions on travelers coming from North America,” he said. “Our kababayans want to come back and reunite with their loved ones,” he said.
Concepcion also pointed out that new COVID-19 cases in the Philippines have been dropping since October, with the rolling seven-day average dipping to less than 3,000 since November 2, and the number of new cases dropping to levels not seen since before the detection of the Delta variant in the country.
Meanwhile, COVID cases have continued to stabilize in the US, while hospitalizations and deaths have also declined. In a forum hosted by Go Negosyo last month, US Ambassador Jose Romualdez shared that 90 percent of US-based Filipinos have already been vaccinated and that many are eager to fly to the Philippines but remain concerned about the quarantine protocols imposed on non-Green listed countries like the US.
Concepcion said that easing travel restrictions for North America can help boost economic activity in the country during the fourth quarter of the year, and even more so if travelers from other countries are included in the eased quarantine restrictions proposal.
“Many MSMEs are counting on the increased holiday and pre-election spending to help them recover from the losses during the pandemic. They will be able to pay back their loans and earn enough to provide for their workers’ 13th month pay. There are many things that depend on letting our kababayans come home this Christmas,” he said.