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Reopening of Philippine tourism 'difficult to predict' due to COVID-19 'volatility' —Puyat

The reopening of Philippine tourism is still “quite difficult to predict” as the COVID-19 situation is still volatile, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said Friday.

During the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) forum, Puyat narrated how the tourism industry prepared for the Holy Week and the summer season this year.

However, the new variants of coronavirus caused the surge in the country, prompting the government to place NCR Plus — or Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite and Bulacan — under the strictest quarantine classification.

"So, it is quite difficult in this situation to predict when or what date [is the reopening of the tourism industry], in fact, when I last spoke with my ASEAN tourism counterparts, nobody could give a date because of the volatility of the situation, especially with the new variants,” she said.

Puyat remained hopeful that the arrival of COVID-19 vaccine supplies in the country will help the industry recover faster as most of the workers under A4 category will already be vaccinated.

For now, the DOT chief reiterated her proposal to establish "green lanes" for fully vaccinated individuals in a bid to boost the tourism in the country.

She mentioned anew that the returning Filipinos or those commonly called balikbayan, are hesitating to visit the Philippines due to the mandatory 10-day quarantine period.

“We are continually pushing for less quarantine [days] and the only way to do this really fast is if we are able to vaccinate our tourism destinations, the workers in the tourist destinations, so that they can safely accept fully-vaccinated [individuals] without themselves getting COVID-19,” she pointed out.

On Friday, Malacañang announced that the quarantine period for inbound travelers to the Philippines who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has been shortened to seven days from 14, but only if they got vaccinated in the country.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said an individual is considered fully vaccinated if he or she will come to the Philippines two or more weeks after receiving the second dose in a two-dose series, or two or more weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine.

Previously, Puyat has proposed cutting the quarantine period of fully-vaccinated balikbayans and OFWs from 10 days to seven days.

These “green lanes” will also facilitate the entry of foreign visitors who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as part of the national government’s effort to reopen the economy.

Puyat’s proposal to offer green lanes to foreign travelers was earlier opposed by Senator Nancy Binay.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III likewise called on the national task force on COVID-19 response to remove the 14-day quarantine requirement for fully-vaccinated individuals entering the country.

Sotto said the quarantine requirement defeats the purpose of vaccination, claiming that vaccinated investors are discouraged from coming to the Philippines because they have to undergo the mandatory quarantine.

In April, the DOH said fully-vaccinated Filipinos who will return to the Philippines will still need to undergo the standard quarantine and testing protocols against COVID-19.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said this is because there is still "no sufficient evidence" that vaccines can block the transmission of the disease.

The DOH previously explained that vaccines can instead help prevent severe infection.   —KBK, GMA News