MANILA, Philippines — Most local governments around the country have been complying with the uniform protocols which relaxed requirements on domestic travel, a Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) official told lawmakers on Wednesday.
In a hearing, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III reassured the House transportation panel that the protocols were “science-based” and that observing minimum health standards was key in reducing COVID-19 transmission.
Densing said “80 to 90 percent of local governments from cities, municipalities and provinces have complied with three provisions” in the unified travel protocols.
“There is still a transition. I am looking at 80-percent compliance with the provisions. For executive orders (EO) not in compliance, I already talked to the local chief executives and they have agreed to amend their EOs,” Densing said.
In February, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) issued Resolution No. 101, which laid down the relaxed requirements on domestic travel.
The uniform travel protocols removed the requirements of travel authority documents issued by the police, medical certificates issued by the local government of origin and mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers, unless they show symptoms. Antigen testing
Travelers are no longer required to undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing, but the local government may still impose this. “There are [local governments], who want travelers to have an RT-PCR test, and that is allowed under the IATF resolution,” Densing said.
He said the provincial governments of Sarangani and Ilocos Norte and the city government of Baguio had asked the DILG that they be allowed to use antigen testing, instead of RT-PCR, to screen travelers for COVID-19. “All of us agreed that this will form part of their EOs,” Densing said.
He said if a traveler tested positive in the antigen test, he would be quarantined for a day while waiting for the results of a confirmatory RT-PCR test. If the results were not out in a day, the traveler would be allowed to go home but would be monitored by the barangay health emergency response team.
The easing of travel restrictions came as the country faced a spike in COVID-19 cases, especially in Metro Manila.
During the hearing, Nueva Ecija Rep. Micaela Violago raised this concern, pointing out that more COVID-19 patients were being admitted to hospitals in past weeks.
“Did they consider this situation we are facing now? Did they consider this in their plan? Because for sure, many provinces might close down again because of this surge,” she said.
But Densing said the Department of Health and epidemiology experts played a key role in helping craft the unified travel protocols. Tourists not allowed?
Densing also promised to check reports that some local governments were not accepting tourists even with the uniform travel protocols in place.
This after Robert Lim, Air Carriers Association of the Philippines executive director, told the panel that some provinces were not allowing tourists at all.
“We hope that with the IATF resolution creating the protocols for opening up domestic travels, the [local government] policy on prohibiting tourists will be opened … We believe that the economic recovery at this point in time should be foremost in the recovery of these communities of the country,” Lim said.