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Nancy Binay bucks opening Philippines to fully vaccinated foreigners

Senator Nancy Binay on Wednesday opposed the Department of Tourism’s proposal to create a “green lane” that would facilitate the entry of foreign visitors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The DOT's proposal is part of the national government’s effort to reopen the economy.

“Ready na ba tayo doon sa scenario na araw-araw may mga malalaking eroplanong galing Mainland China ang lumalapag sa [Ninoy Aquino International Airport], Cebu, o Boracay?” Binay said.

[Are we ready for the scenario where huge airplanes land at the NAIA, Cebu and Boracay from Mainland China?]

“I understand the need to kickstart the tourism industry—kailangan nating gumulong muli ang turismo—pero di pa ito ang tamang panahon para mag-entertain ng foreign tourists,” she added.

[I understand the need to kickstart the tourism industry, but this is not the right time to entertain foreign tourists.]

Binay is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Tourism.

She said even vaccinated travelers could be carriers of the virus.

Binay said there wewre more pressing matters that the government should prioritize than creating guidelines for fully-vaccinated foreign travelers’ entry in the country.

“How can we entertain leisure travel kung marami pa rin tayong cases, at di pa rin naa-address ang mga issue pagdating sa public health tulad ng testing, lack of vaccines, poor contact-tracing systems, low inoculation rate, vaccine hesitancy, etc.,” Binay said.

[How can we entertain leisure travel if we still have huge number of cases and we cannot still address the issue of public health such as testing, lack of vaccine, poor contact-tracing systems, low inoculation rate, vaccine hesitancy, etcetera.]

Binay urged the DOT to be “realistic” that the Philippines COVID-19 response was far from the system and safety nets placed by Hong Kong and Thailand.

“These countries are so much advanced in terms of rate of vaccination, testing and technology-driven contact-tracing. Maganda ang plano ng DOT, kaso ang realidad (The DOT’s plan is great, but in reality), international travel for leisure will still be restricted this year,” Binay said.

“The only time we can be confident in opening our doors is when the systems are already in place and are fully working. We still have a laundry list of pandemic-related problems na kailangang unahing bigyan ng solusyon (that we should give solutions first.) At the moment, maybe we need to focus first on seriously growing the domestic market, and shift to low risk, locally sustainable niche markets,” she added.

Binay welcomed the “green lanes” for the returning overseas Filipino workers and returning Filipinos who were already fully-vaccinated against COVID-19, verified, and cleared by health authorities from their countries of origin.

She also expressed support for the shortened quarantine for the fully vaccinated OFWs and balikbayans as long as there is coordination among the health authorities.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has proposed cutting the quarantine period of fully-vaccinated balikbayans and OFWs from 10 days to seven days.

This so-called “green lane” will also facilitate the entry of foreign visitors who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

She said the proposal was already brought up with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and this will be discussed with health experts in the following days.

Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon said foreign tourism revenues in 2020 plunged to about P82 billion from P482 billion in 2019. —NB, GMA News