IATF approves uniform protocols on local travel

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — The state task force against COVID-19 has approved uniform travel protocols across all local government units, easing quarantine and documentary requirements.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced in an online media briefing on Saturday that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases gave the green light to the rules on land, air, and sea travel crafted by the Department of Interior and Local Government in coordination with LGU groups.

LGUs previously imposed varying requirements, including a negative swab test result, other documents, and mandatory quarantine, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under the IATF Resolution No. 101, travelers still have to undergo COVID-19 testing if required by the LGU of their destination – the provincial government, and authorities of highly urbanized cities and independent component cities. In which case, only a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR test will be honored.

But travelers can no longer be compelled to go on quarantine unless they exhibit symptoms upon arriving at their destination. They are also no longer required to secure a travel authority from the police’s Joint Task Force COVID Shield, even health certificates prior to their trip.

“Authorized Persons Outside of Residence (APORs) from national government agencies and their attached agencies must provide their identification card, travel order, and travel itinerary, and must pass symptom-screening at ports of entry and exit,” the IATF added.

The task force stressed that minimum public health standards should be strictly implemented. Clinical and exposure assessment shall be done to ensure that only asymptomatic travelers, and those who did not have close contact with COVID-19 patients, can enter the LGUs.

"Health assessment of passengers, supervised by medical doctors, shall be mandatory upon entry in the port/terminal and exit at point of destination," the IATF stressed.

In a text message to CNN Philippines, Roque said the resolution takes effect upon publication. It was posted on the Official Gazette on Saturday.

The Department of Tourism said in a separate statement that the simplification of requirements will encourage domestic travel and help the industry recover. It added that those who will still be required to take a RT-PCR test can avail of the government’s subsidized services.

Amid efforts to reopen the economy, the country records an increase of more than 1,000 to over 2,000 COVID-19 cases daily, with the tally now reaching 571,000.

Other rules

Meanwhile, the IATF ordered all ports and terminals nationwide to have sufficient isolation facilities, and a referral system to transfer symptomatic travelers to the care of the Bureau of Quarantine or LGUs.

For Metro Manila, buses bound for provinces can only use the Integrated Terminal Exchange as a central hub. “No bus company or public transport shall be allowed use of their private terminals,” the IATF said in its resolution.

It also institutionalizes the use of the Safe, Swift, and Smart Passage (S-PaSS) Travel Management System of the Department of Science and Technology, a one-stop-shop for travelers' application and communication needs, and the StaySafe.ph contact tracing app.

“Traze App for airports, and such other existing contact tracing applications must be integrated with the StaySafe.ph System,” the IATF said.

Eased travel protocols may accelerate COVID-19 spread in PH

Implementing uniform travel protocols may pose threat to areas with minimal COVID-19 risk, according to a fellow of OCTA Research team.

In a virtual briefing on Saturday, Dr. Guido David of OCTA Research said the move was a "bit concerning" given the new variants present in the Philippines.

"Some areas are doing well, and some areas are not doing well. We have to be careful [with] border controls," he said.

"We should be concerned. Halimbawa may tourists from NCR na pupunta sa Cebu, we already know na may variant na kumakalat dun, [so] we should be vigilant," the health expert added.

[Translation: For example, there are tourists from NCR going to Cebu, we already know that there is a variant that is spreading there, (so) we should be vigilant.]

RELATED: DOH confirms new COVID-19 mutations in Central Visayas

Dr. David stressed the virus will also spread quickly to Metro Manila's surrounding regions.

Meanwhile, Department of Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire in the same briefing expressed support to the IATF's decision.

She said that the government's health experts have long recommended the dropping of negative COVID-19 test results from domestic tourist requirements since it was "irrational" to do so.

"Minsan ang ginagamit ay hindi appropriate na test; minsan itetest pero wala pa sa peak na viral load, we miss the opportunity to detect the virus. So sometimes nagiging inefficient," the DOH official said.

[Translation: Sometimes what is used is not an appropriate test; sometimes it is tested but not yet at the peak viral load, we miss the opportunity to detect the virus. So, it becomes inefficient.]