AS I have said in my previous column, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has no hard and fast rules. It keeps on changing its guidelines on Covid-19 protocols. Its latest flip-flop is on its guidelines on inter-zonal travel after it encountered opposition from some local government units (LGUs).
The IATF released Resolution 124-B, which allows inter-zonal travel for all fully vaccinated individuals in general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) areas provided they present a domestic vaccination card or certificate of isolation issued by the Bureau of Quarantine.
A Covid-19 domestic vaccination card duly signed by a legitimate vaccinating establishment or certificate of quarantine completion showing the holder’s vaccination status as issued by the Bureau of Quarantine shall be a sufficient alternative to any testing requirement.
Travelers who have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine need to undergo health and exposure screening upon arrival in the LGU of their destination.
Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana, IATF medical consultant, in his Facebook post, explained the rationale for this change. He said fully vaccinated individuals are much less likely to contract Covid-19. Even if they end up getting infected, the amount of virus they release is much less than that of an unvaccinated individual and there is a lower chance of transmission. Also, testing with RT-PCR in asymptomatic persons is generally low yield and is even less fruitful in fully vaccinated asymptomatic individuals. Strict exposure and symptom screening remain in place for incoming travelers.
And why do fully vaccinated close contacts of a confirmed case who remain asymptomatic only need to quarantine for seven days from the date of the last contact?
The rationale for this again, according to Salvana, is the fact that fully vaccinated individuals are less likely to get infected and even with breakthrough infection, their viral loads are low and should already be less contagious. After seven days, a test will have to be done and the individual should be treated as a Covid-19 suspect and isolated for 10 days (mild) or 21 days (severe/critical).
Also effective last July 1, travelers who were fully vaccinated in “green” countries, or those with low Covid-19 risk, would be allowed to shorten their facility quarantine to seven days from the current 10 days. These travelers should have exclusively stayed in a “green” country 14 days before arriving in the country. They will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a single dose of a Covid-19 shot or the second jab of a second dose vaccine and they will be required to take an RT-PCR test on the fifth day of their quarantine.
But after some LGUs opposed the latest guidelines, DOH Secretary and IATF chairman Francisco Duque III clarified that fully vaccinated domestic travelers may be required by LGUs to present RT-PCR test results as a new policy is up for review. In the meantime, LGUs can adopt Resolution 101 issued last February, which requires the swab test result before granting anyone entry to their locality. Meaning, there is a status quo. And the latest decision is to leave the matter to the LGUs whether to require a negative RT-PCR test.
When the conflict between IATF guidelines and Cebu Provincial Government’s policy on arriving overseas Filipino workers and returning overseas Filipinos cropped up, IATF, with the strong backing of President Rodrigo Duterte, insisted that their guidelines should be followed because these are guided by science. It ordered all LGUs and other government instrumentalities to follow its guidelines to the letter. But on their latest guidelines, when some LGUs resisted, the IATF backed out. Why? I cannot understand.
If the IATF thinks it is the supreme body to decide on protocols during this pandemic and that its guidelines are based on medicine and science-based management, then it should insist on its guidelines. Why flip-flop? Because they themselves doubt their guidelines? And so, why insist on their guidelines if they are doubtful with their protocols?