ALLOWING inbound travel, especially of foreigners with relatives or loved ones living in the country, is now being discussed by government leaders amid the coming Christmas holiday season and the country’s continued battle against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, concurrent co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said the government recognizes that there are foreign citizens abroad who want to spend the holidays with their loved ones and fiancées who live in the country.
He added the government is “sensitive” to the plight of individuals who have been asking the government for permission to leave the country or allow their fiancés to reunite with their loved ones.
The IATF on Friday released a copy of Resolution 79 which now allows Filipinos in the country to travel abroad “regardless of purpose” such as for education, for leisure, or to visit loved ones starting October 21.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in an interview over radio DzBB, said inbound travel of foreign nationals is still not allowed as tourist visas are still restricted. He said the Philippines also do not issue fiancé visas.
Under Resolution 79, “OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), students abroad and participants accepted in exchange visitor programs, permanent residents of foreign jurisdictions, and foreign nationals, may leave for abroad through any of the airports or seaports in the country.”
Outbound Filipinos are required to present a round-trip ticket, health and travel insurance and a negative antigen result at least 24 hours before departure. They will also be required to sign a declaration acknowledging the risk of their travel, to be provided by airline check-in counters.
However, if the country of destination requires an RT-PCR test, Nograles said the traveler “needs to get one.”
RELAXED DEPARTURE TRAVEL
The Bureau of Immigration said it will ease travel restrictions for departing passengers, including those on non-essential travels, but said arrival restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus will remain in place.
“Starting October 21, the BI will be allowing the departure of Filipinos with non-essential travel,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said.
Initially, only foreign nationals, OFWs permanent visa holders, students enrolled abroad, participants accepted in exchange visitor programs, as well as those on essential travel, were allowed to depart the country but Morente said the IATF-EIC ruling expands this to include non-essential travel.
“Outbound tourism is now allowed for Filipinos, subject to compliance with protocols set by the IATF-EID,” he said.
At the same time, the BI chief said inbound travel restrictions remain in place, though he said the BI is ready to implement changes if directed by the IATF-EID.
At present, only Filipinos, their spouse and minor children are allowed to enter the country holding tourist visas. Also allowed are officials of accredited foreign government and international organizations and their dependents, foreign airline crew members, foreign seafarers with visas and foreigners with long-term visa.
“They are required to secure an entry visa from Philippine embassies or consulates, prior to arrival,” Morente said.
Roque, in an interview with DzBB on Saturday, said the traditional “Misa de Gallo” or “Simbang Gabi” may push through in December if the number of coronavirus disease cases in the country continues to go down.
Roque said the government would continue to monitor the COVID-19 daily attack rate – or daily increase or decrease in COVID cases in a certain area or population – and the health capacity care system in the country.
Also being monitored are the reproduction number (R0), which is the average number of people who will contract a disease from an infected person, and the growth rate or number of coronavirus cases in a particular area for a period of time.
He said the majority of the provinces and cities in the country are already under the modified general community country (MGCQ) and only Metro Manila and a handful of cities and provinces continue to be under the general community country (GCQ).
He said the current cases, including in Metro Manila, had already been going down with the reproduction number in the country already at 0.98.
“It is not farfetched or impossible because many areas are under MGCQ… It depends on our observing the ‘Mask, Hugas, Iwas’ campaign if we can finally allow more people to go to church for the Simbang Gabi,” Roque said.
Archdiocese of Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo had urged the local government to adjust their curfew hours and allow more people to attend the novena masses leading to Christmas Day.
At present, the capacity for religious activities is limited to 10 percent while the curfew is observed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. – With Ashzel Hachero