Philippines lifts entry ban, but foreign tourists still not allowed as Covid-19 cases are at record high

Vehicles line up for a booster shot of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, at a drive-through vaccination site, in Manila, Philippines. - Reuters

MANILA, Jan 16 (dpa): The Philippines has lifted a ban on entry for travellers from 14 countries and territories with high Covid-19 cases, but stressed that foreign tourists were still not allowed amid a surge in infections.

The lifting of the entry ban was announced as the Philippines daily tally of new Covid-19 cases hit a record high for the third straight day on Saturday (Jan 15), as the health department confirmed the community transmission of the Omicron variant in the capital region.

The Department of Health reported 39,004 additional Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the highest daily count since the pandemic started, pushing the country’s total caseload to more than 3.16 million.

The death toll rose by 43 to 52,858, it added.

The cases have been spiking in the past two weeks. About half of the infections were from the capital region of Metro Manila, a sprawling metropolis of over 13 million people.

The entry ban was lifted mainly to allow Filipinos in "red list” countries and territories to return to the Philippines without having to wait for repatriation flights by the government, presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.

"Since there are already Omicron cases here and we have many Filipinos in red list countries who want to come home... the [national task force on Covid-19] has decided to allow them to return home even without [repatriation] flights,” he said.

Foreigners, such as diplomats, foreign spouses and children of Filipinos, and international travellers given exemptions, are also allowed to enter the Philippines.

But Nograles stressed, "We are not yet opening up our country to international tourists.”

The 14 red list countries and territories are Canada, Iceland, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, Malta, Curacao, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, French Guiana, Mayotte, US Virgin Islands, Mozambique and Somalia.

According to the latest entry protocols, all foreigners entering the Philippines must present a proof of full vaccination. Exceptions are limited to children below 18 years old, diplomats and their dependents and individuals who are medically unable to get jabs.

They also need to present a negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test taken 48 hours prior to departure, and undergo facility quarantine of between five to 10 days depending on the category of their country of origin.

The Philippines' health department has blamed the spike in Covid-19 on increased mobility and gathering during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and the spread of the highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants.

Nograles urged Filipinos who are not yet vaccinated to get their anti-Covid-19 jabs now, noting, "The World Health Organization describes Omicron as ‘dangerous specially for the unvaccinated.’ Let us not be complacent.”

More than 54 million people, or over 49 per cent of the Philippines' population of 110 million, had been vaccinated as of Thursday, the health department said.

The national task force also approved the health department’s recommendation to shorten isolation and quarantine periods for Covid-positive patients and their close contacts, especially for those vaccinated and with mild symptoms. - dpa

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