DESPITE the easing of domestic travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals, the Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, stressed that local government units (LGUs) may still ask fully vaccinated travelers to present a negative swab test result as entry requirement.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III issued the clarification after some LGUs expressed concern over the relaxed domestic travel protocols that allow fully vaccinated individuals to present their vaccination cards in lieu of a swab test result.
Pending discussions of “operational concerns” over this new policy, Duque said LGUs may revert to a previous resolution approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which allows LGUs to require travelers to undergo reverse transmission polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing for the virus.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Secretary was referring to Resolution 101, which was approved on February 26, 2021 and remains in effect.
“While the IATF has said that vaccination cards may be used in lieu of the testing requirements, as we iron out operational concerns, IATF Resolution 101 remains in effect. This means that the LGU can still require testing as a requirement for entry,” Vergeire said.
“Status quo kasi may (because there’s an) appeal. ‘Yan naman ang process natin (That is how we do things),” she added.
Vergeire said the IATF, which is the policy-making body for the government’s Covid-19 response, will “iron out the operational concerns” over the use of vaccination cards during their meeting on Thursday, July 8.
“In any case, what remains is the flexibility of the LGUs to implement testing and quarantine protocols for interzonal travel,” she said.
Under Resolution 124-B, fully vaccinated travelers may simply present a vaccination card as “alternative to any testing requirement (before travel or upon arrival) which the local government unit of destination may require.”
The resolution, however, requires the traveler, including fully vaccinated senior citizens, to undergo health and exposure screening upon arrival in the LGU of destination.
An individual is considered fully vaccinated against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) at least two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or a single-dose vaccine.
Some LGUs expressed concern over the use of vaccination cards in lieu of a swab test result to allow entry of travelers in light of the threat posed by the highly transmissible variants of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
Pending the result of the IATF meeting on Thursday, DOH officials said LGUs that deem the vaccination card as sufficient entry requirement may forego the swab test requirement while those that raised concerns over the relaxation of travel restrictions may continue to require a negative swab test result.
Vergeire reiterated that more than the testing requirement, there is a need to put in place a robust symptom and exposure screening protocol/system complemented by contact tracing.
She said fully vaccinated individuals can still be infected and may still infect others.
“Precisely why we have always said that we need to practice MPHS even after getting the full dose,” she said. MPHS refers to minimum public health standards which include wearing of masks and face shields, and physical distancing.
“Fully vaccinated individuals are seen to have lower viral loads and less likely to develop symptoms when infected with Covid-19. With these factors in place, they are also less likely to infect other people,” she added.
In an advisory issued Wednesday evening, the DOH also clarified that it has never advocated for antigen testing as a requirement for travel. Antigen testing has also never been recommended for border control purposes.
Per Resolution 101, LGUs that require testing prior to travel shall limit the test to RT-PCR.
Dr. Van Philip Baton, DOH 7 medical program coordinator for infectious diseases, said “vigilance is still the name of the game, especially in the event when the implementation of policies are not yet uniform and data management is still in the process of being finalized by the concerned government agencies.”
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan, for his part, said requiring a negative swab test result aside from the vaccination card would ensure safety against Covid-19 transmission.
Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, Visayas Covid-19 Vaccination Operations Center (VVOC) spokesperson, said it is “too premature” to remove testing as a requirement because vaccination rates are still low and a fully vaccinated person may still contract the virus and transmit it.
Meanwhile, vaccination centers across Metro Cebu will open Thursday, July 8, as the national government delivered a total of 52,040 additional doses of the Sinovac vaccine for Metro Cebu Wednesday morning, Loreche said.
Cebu City, which halted inoculations Wednesday, received 18,000 doses, according to Cebu City Health Department (CHD) officer-in-charge Jeffrey Ibones.
He said around 9,000 individuals will be inoculated over the next five days. All the vaccination sites in Cebu City will be opened.
Other LGUs will also receive additional vaccines based on number of recipients and efficiency: Mandaue City, 8,000 doses; Lapu-Lapu City, 8,500 doses; Talisay City, 5,550 doses; City of Naga, 5,550; Minglanilla, 2,000 doses; and Consolacion, 2,000 doses.
The remaining 2,440 doses have been allotted for the Project Balik Buhay (PBB) vaccination initiative. (SunStar Philippines / WBS, JJL, FVQ)