CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is set to adjust the arrival protocols set for fully vaccinated individuals by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Garcia announced on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, that fully vaccinated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) will be required to stay only five days in facility-based quarantine as an incentive.
Aside from undergoing a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test upon arrival, the fully vaccinated OFW and ROF will also be swabbed again on the fifth day.
If the result comes out on the same day and it’s negative, the OFW or ROF is released also on the fifth day, two days ahead of the seven-day facility-based quarantine required by the IATF for verified fully vaccinated travelers arriving from low-risk, or Green List, countries and territories.
“Usually, the test results come out after 48 hours. That is, if you are not that efficient. Over here in Cebu, efficiency is like second nature to us. From a seamless procedure at the airport and then they’re brought to the hotels. Fully vaccinated persons are tested on the fifth day and then if they are tested early in the morning, the result can come out on the same day. So why wait for two more days? Does it make sense? Let us make the vaccination program an incentivized program,” Garcia said.
A memorandum will be issued to implement this incentive program, she added.
Before announcing this new policy, Garcia said she discussed the matter with officials of the Department of Tourism, Department of Health, Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu (Hrrac), and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.
She repeated her argument that OFWs and ROFs who come home often do so because of emergencies, such as illness or death in the family.
“Many of our OFWs come home for emergency purposes. Someone is dying, someone is very sick, someone has died and you want to attend the wake. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating, depressing and illogical to be made to wait two more days. I’m just saying we’re very efficient here,” Garcia added.
Upon the ROF’s arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), the BOQ will verify the ROF’s documents like the vaccination card, Government Certification of Vaccination or the BOQ-issued International Certification of Vaccination (ICV), if he or she is fully vaccinated.
OFWs may present their verified vaccination card or Government Certification of Vaccination issued by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (Polo).
Garcia said she will continue the free swab test on ROFs and OFWs upon their arrival because this has been found effective.
She noted that international travelers arriving in the Philippines are not required to present a negative RT-PCR test.
“And yet according to protocols, they are only swabbed in Manila on the seventh day. Now you wonder, the Delta variant spread like wildfire in Luzon. You know why? Because you do not catch those that are possibly infected upon arrival and then they go to the hotels, security is so loose. This is how the variants spread,” Garcia said.
Garcia first “innovated” on IATF’s arrival policy in April 2021, when she enforced her executive order mandating a swab upon arrival rule and hotel quarantine of a maximum of only three days.
The IATF mandates a 10 + 4 rule, or 10 days of facility-based quarantine, four days additional home quarantine with swab test on the seventh day. The quarantine period is shortened to seven days for verified fully vaccinated travelers from Green List countries.
The IATF, however, has suspended the shortened quarantine period for fully vaccinated travelers who are considered close contacts of probable and confirmed Covid-19 cases.
The discrepancy in the arrival protocols earlier led to the diversion of international flights bound for MCIA to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the capital region. Cebu adhered to the IATF protocol, albeit retaining the swab upon arrival rule, only on June 22, after President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not obey any court orders pertaining to the government’s Covid-19 response.
Meanwhile, Garcia assured that the Provincial Government continues to support the Covid-19 vaccination program, but also stressed that getting vaccinated is “a matter of choice.”
“Vaccination is a matter of choice. For those who want the vaccine, we are supporting the vaccination program of the national government… With more vaccines coming in, we are now increasing the number of vaccinated persons. But it should be a matter of choice,” Garcia said.