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This song, melancholy as it already is, brings even more sentimentality this year. An interesting sidenote to this story is that it was originally released in 1943, during World War II. It takes the point of view of a soldier, stationed overseas, writing to his family, and telling them to prepare for his homecoming on Christmas.
It becomes even more sentimental this year because it looked as if it would be the second Christmas that our overseas-based kababayans would spend away from their loved ones.
But not anymore. I have a good feeling that the facility-based quarantine stay for the fully vaccinated travelers will be reduced to one to two days, practically two nights if you take the RT-PCR test on the morning of the third day. This will be such a substantial reduction from spending five days in quarantine, even if you are fully vaccinated.
With persistence, I believe a compromise can be reached. We have been begging the national government to allow testing before departure, testing upon arrival, and shortening the facility-based quarantines. We already proposed that testing should be done 72 hours before departure, and another one upon arrival, just to be sure that we do not compromise the integrity of our borders. We even pushed for home-based testing for those arriving from abroad.
Around the world, the growing trend is that you cannot enter a country unless you are fully vaccinated. That is the case in the US, in Thailand, in India, and many other countries who are slowly opening up their borders to international travelers. We need to enliven our tourism industry. Our planes need to be in the air, our hotels must be filled. We are proposing to follow what the other countries are doing, which is one to two days of quarantine, and learn from their experiences.
One balikbayan told me during a radio interview that it would be great if we could scrap the tests and the quarantines altogether. I told him that although that would be the ideal scenario, we must have a win-win for all. While we do want to have more tourists from other countries and would like to see more families reunited this Christmas, we have to be careful that we do not experience a surge like the ones happening in other countries that relaxed too soon.
If a compromise on shortening the facility-based quarantine is reached – which I have a good feeling will happen – it will definitely be a win for our returning kababayans who will be travelling from yellow-listed countries such as the US and Canada. The quarantine time has been cited as the primary reason most travelers from North America are putting off their travel plans to the Philippines this holiday season.
The data is already showing us that the positivity rate among inbound passengers from the US has been relatively low at 0.3 percent, which means that of their average 200 passengers per flight, there may be only 0.6 infected passengers. Even for a full 777 flight carrying 377 passengers, that translates to a potential 1.13 infected passengers per flight.
This is reason enough to give balikbayans a chance to come home this Christmas. North America, in particular, is home to many Filipino OFWs, immigrants, and their families, who have been telling me whenever I do an interview over the radio, they would happily spend their hard-earned money in the Philippines rather than vacation in Europe or other parts of Asia.
We appreciate that. Our MSMEs are counting on this holiday spending to help them recover from their losses, and it will go a long way to ensuring that 2022 will be a better year for all. Many of them are counting on the increased holiday spending to help them 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.
The increased vaccination rates, the dip in new COVID-19 cases, and the low positivity rates are also quite encouraging. We are even trying to intensify the vaccinations in the provinces – where I am sure most balikbayans would like to visit – with our VAX to the MAX initiative.
We are trying to further help the laboratories speed up their testing. Our hope is in pooled testing. Right now, the approved method is five samples to one test kit. We have received offers to pilot-test a pooled-testing technology that can handle 25 samples to one test kit. If this pushes through, imagine how much we can speed up the testing, further shorten the facility quarantine, and reunite our balikbayans with their loved ones.
We are trying to vaccinate more, and at the same time bring the COVID numbers down. We are trying to make this happen. I am sure the government is trying to do what it can to help our kababayans come home and spend the holidays with their loved ones here in the Philippines.
Then more of our kababayans can finally sing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, without the melancholy or the longing because they will be home for Christmas.
For real, and not only in their dreams.