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Ex-Health Secretary: No need to restrict entry of travelers from China

Former Health Secretary and Iloilo lawmaker Janet Garin said on Monday that, despite the surge in COVID-19 cases, there was still no need to restrict the entry of travelers from China as fatalities from the illness had been reduced by COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Balancing is key. In China, mandatory [COVID-19] testing for all [is conducted] every two to three days. Their National ID can determine those who did not comply. Hence, expect a lot of [COVID-19] positives. But deaths are not as many,” Garin said in a statement sent to GMA News Online.

“Hospitalization is also not what is being projected. There might be allegations of non-transparency but what’s the use of reporting a million asymptomatics if death is very minimal? Hence, on China and COVID-19, decisions should be science-based. If we do mandatory [COVID-19] testing [for travelers from] other countries and even [here in the] Philippines, we will see the same picture [of many COVID-19 positive cases but not necessarily symptomatic or fatal],” she added.

Garin also said that the Philippines was in no position to impose restrictions given that the number of Filipinos who received a COVID-19 booster shot was far from ideal.

Based on Health Department records, at least 73.7 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Of those vaccinated, only 21 million received a booster shot.

“Even our database concerning our vaccination cards is chaotic. Hence, it would be awkward to comment [on restrictions] when we can’t even iron out our health problems and inefficiencies,” Garin said.

Garin also said that China was a major market for Philippine exports, imports, and tourism, and restrictions could jeopardize economic recovery.

“The Philippines is exporting banana and pineapple to China, and such a market was lost when China closed its borders. Many of the raw materials used for Philippine-made products are also from China. Hence, it is really important to strike a balance,” she added.

“Airline operators and our tourism industry are just recovering. As long as the impact on public health is not detrimental, we will be fine. We should not make our decisions based on what is popular, but on what is good for the country. Such a decision should then be properly explained to the public and the stakeholders. [Restrictions] will just turn away tourists and investors,” she added.

Going forward, Garin urged the public to wear a mask in indoor settings and thickly populated areas, while those with COVID-19 symptoms for two to three days should stay home to avoid exposure and complications.

For the government, Garin said there should be intervention on reducing hospital expenses for severe cases and provisions on free COVID-19 testing.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante earlier projected 3,000 to 5,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of the Christmas season.

“Unlike last year when we had 25,000 to 30,000 cases [after the holidays] due to the Omicron variant... we will have 3,000 to 5,000 cases more or less which is [a] manageable [figure]. I don’t think we will be reaching 5,000 cases,” Solante said. — DVM, GMA Integrated News