MANILA (The Straits Times/ANN): The Philippines is further relaxing its pandemic protocols, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr set to sign an executive order scrapping the indoor mask-wearing mandate in most places. Travel restrictions for tourists will also be eased.
Marcos decided to adopt the recommendation of the government’s inter-agency pandemic task force during his meeting with his Cabinet officials on Tuesday, according to Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco.
Marcos had lifted the compulsory mask wearing outdoors in September.
Certain individuals are still “highly encouraged” to wear their face masks in public places, including the unvaccinated, people with comorbidities and senior citizens.
Frasco said the Philippines is lifting its mask mandates to be “on par” with its South-east Asian neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia, which have also made mask-wearing indoors and outdoors optional.
Unvaccinated foreigners who wish to enter the Philippines will now just be required to present a negative antigen test, which they may take within 24 hours before their departure or upon their arrival in the Philippines. Unvaccinated tourists were earlier required to present a negative RT-PCR test.
Starting Nov 1, the One Health Pass for arriving travellers will also be replaced with the Electronic Arrival Card, which would make it easier for individuals since they will be filling out less information on the card.
Frasco said this signals the Philippines’ “openness and readiness” to accept foreign tourists and investments. Foreign tourist arrivals in the South-east Asian country has reached 1.77 million as of Oct 19.
The Philippines, however, is further easing its pandemic rules a week after announcing that it has detected the presence of the highly transmissible XBB Omicron sub-variant and XBC recombinant.
Frasco defended the decision, saying the Department of Health (DOH) is currently “very aggressive” in its Covid-19 vaccination and booster campaign. As of Tuesday, DOH data showed the Philippines has vaccinated only 73.48 million out of its 109-million population. The country currently has 22,850 active Covid-19 cases.
“In the end, we simply cannot go on in a pandemic perspective because we have to give our country an opportunity to thrive, while maintaining health protocols on one hand, and safeguarding and protecting livelihood and the economy on the other,” said Frasco. “It is not a mutually exclusive exercise”.