Quarantine for travelers from abroad will protect PH from virus variant – Palace
MANILA, Philippines — The mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers coming from countries with the new coronavirus variant would prevent its transmission in the Philippines, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday amid calls from lawmakers to expand the travel ban.
“Whether it be the new strain or the old strain, our protection against it is the 14-day quarantine and the use of mask, washing hands, and [physical] distancing,” Roque said in a press briefing on Monday.
The government has banned until Jan. 14 flights from the United Kingdom, which imposed stricter lockdowns after reporting cases of the new coronavirus strain that was found to be more transmissible.
But several lawmakers said the ban should also cover other countries where the new strain had been reported.
Roque said the two-week quarantine would prevent the transmission of the variant in the country, noting that those arriving from countries with the new strain must complete the isolation period regardless of the results of their COVID-19 test.
“This means that even if there is a new strain coming from these countries, this would not spread because it would be mandatory for them to be quarantined in New Clark City,” he said.
But he also took note of the possibility that the travel ban could be expanded to cover countries with the variant.
“Let us just wait for the developments because the Department of Health (DOH) is saying that while there is no community transmission of the new variant in the different countries, a 14-day quarantine could be imposed and this would be regardless of the results of their PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test,” he said.
Health experts have said that while the new variant was more transmissible, there was no evidence showing it causes more severe COVID-19. The DOH has also said no new strain has been reported in the country.
But to make sure the new variant would not be transmitted, the President suspended the pilot testing of in-person classes, which were supposed to start in January. He also ordered tighter border control and surveillance.
On Saturday, the DOH and other health experts recommended mandatory 14-day quarantine for passengers from countries with the new strain, but said a travel ban should only be considered if there was already a community transmission of the new variant in the country of origin.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Monday said he did not see a need for a stricter lockdown, particularly in Metro Manila, over the variant.
“We still have no proof that it has reached the country. We have not received reports here of a transmission from that kind of strain,” he said.
In a radio interview, Año said the current lockdown classification in Metro Manila, considered the country’s epicenter of the pandemic, might only be maintained in the face of reports of the new variant in other countries.
Up to task force
He said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the temporary body overseeing the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, might decide not to wait for community transmission before imposing the travel ban on countries where cases of the variant have been reported.
“Our (IATF’s) real proposition now is how to prevent the entry of this new variant in our country,” Año said.
The government might go against World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations of not imposing a travel ban until there was community transmission just to keep the variant out of the country, he said.
“But you wouldn’t know that unless the virus (new strain) is already here,” Año said, adding that it was a risk not worth taking.
The secretary noted the impracticality of simply subjecting persons coming from countries with the variant under a 14-day quarantine period, also a WHO recommendation.
“How many passengers will we have to quarantine? We might run out of quarantine facilities. Our countrymen who need to be quarantined will suffer. We will be overwhelmed,” he said.
Año said the IATF would also be closely looking into the effect of the holidays on the country’s COVID-19 infection rate, given that there was laxity in the observance of health protocols, including the ban on mass gatherings, particularly parties.
“We would feel the effects of this in the first week of January,” he said.
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