PRESIDENTIAL Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd on Thursday called for the relaxing of Covid-19 testing and quarantine requirements for international travel, saying it would invigorate the economy.
“It is quite understandable that public health should be the primary concern of governments. But as Covid itself changes, policy should be also open to re-examination,” Concepcion said, citing other countries’ easing of international arrival restrictions like Thailand that recently announced the resumption of its quarantine-free visa program for vaccinated visitors. Switzerland, too, announced it would not require pre-arrival Covid-19 tests for vaccinated or recovered visitors.
Concepcion, founder of Go Negosyo, said the use of facility-based quarantine and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests should be reviewed.
“The entry requirements are so extensive and complicated that they put the country out of the reach of international visitors, and even our returning kababayans,” he said, noting that testing, fast and accurately should be the top focus of pandemic air travel policies.
“The goal is to find out if a passenger is infected, and if not, to send him on his way as fast as possible and not create bottlenecks,” he added. Concepcion noted that the United States does not require RT-PCR test or quarantine for arriving passengers despite the latest surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
US authorities only require of travelers a negative Covid-19 test result — not necessarily an RT-PCR test — taken no more than 24 hours before departure.
Rapid test results were also honored as long as they met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements.
“We have already started taking the necessary steps by vaccinating and boosting the population. We have moved from prevention to treatment, thanks to efforts to make accessible antiviral medicines like molnupiravir, which, from my own personal experience, seems to work,” Concepcion said. ” “But these are baby steps. We need to take that leap of faith. While vaccines are the solution to keeping a healthy nation, learning to live with Covid will revive our economy and bring life back to our MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises).”
The Philippines has varied travel rules depending on the passenger’s point of origin and vaccination status.
Foremost among the requirements is a negative RT-PCR test taken 48 hours before departure.
Except for fully vaccinated travelers from the 32 countries on its green list, it is mandatory for all arriving passengers to to be tested anew after spending at least five days in facility-based quarantine.
Concepcion said an antigen test taken 24 hours prior to departure would suffice, adding that getting an antigen test closer to the time of departure is more practical than taking the more expensive and time consuming RT-PCR test.
He suggested that travelers take a second antigen test upon arrival as an additional safeguard.
Concepcion was also in favor of home-based quarantine over facility quarantine.
“Our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) can’t afford to spend their hard-earned money and precious time to spend days in facility quarantine,” he said. “Other countries seem to have already accepted the fact that Covid is here to stay. Maybe it’s time we practice living with Covid or else the Philippine economy will suffer and along with it, its MSMEs,” Concepcion added.
Concepcion said that the survival of the country’s airline industry is dependent on the government’s air travel policies.
“This is also quite true of other industries that are downstream from air travel, not the least of which are the tourism and hotel and restaurant sectors. Many MSMEs depend on the trickle-down business generated by air travel,” he said.
“Our economy can’t shut itself [down] or take any more lockdowns as our country’s debts continue to mount. Time is not on our side,” Concepcion added.