DOH backs no COVID-19 test for tourists in Cebu
CEBU CITY—Health authorities in Central Visayas are supporting the move of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to drop the requirement of coronavirus swab tests for visitors entering the province.
Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, spokesperson of the Department of Health in the region (DOH-7), said only those tourists who exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, sore throat and colds, would be required to undergo the swab tests.
Asked how to check if the tourists have symptoms, Loreche said it would be up to the tourists to seek medical assistance should they start to feel these symptoms.
“If they feel unwell or develop symptoms anytime during their stay, then they have to be seen or examined by the municipal or city health officer,” Loreche told the Inquirer.
“[If they have shown symptoms of COVID-19], they will be quarantined and tested,” she added.
Garcia announced at a news conference last week that Cebu would make it easy for tourists to enter the province when it officially reopens its doors to domestic visitors starting Feb. 23
Except for a doctor’s medical certificate and prebooking of accommodations, the governor said there would be no additional requirement to be imposed, specially a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result required by most local governments in the country that cater to tourists, such as Boracay Island in Aklan province and El Nido town in Palawan province.
Garcia also opposed plans to place the province under strict quarantine measures despite rising coronavirus cases in the province and in the independent cities of Cebu and Lapu-Lapu as well as the discovery of the virus’ two mutations.
The governor met with DOH-7 officials last week to discuss her plans to relax coronavirus measures in the province and revive its dying tourism industry.
More mutations found
The move to relax protocols came just as the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) found two COVID-19 “mutations of concern” in the city and province of Cebu.
Loreche, also the chief pathologist of DOH-7, said the two “mutations of concern”—E484K and N501Y—could be a local variant and did not come from other countries.
The two mutations were discovered from among 161 samples sent to the PGC to detect the presence of the B117 variant, also known as the United Kingdom variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19.
Sixty of the specimens already yielded negative for the UK variant when mutations were found in 37 other samples, now dubbed as “variants of concern.”
On Sunday, the DOH said the PGC and the National Institutes of Health of the University of the Philippines recorded three additional samples from the region with the N501Y and E484K mutations of SARS-CoV-2.
Investigation under way
“Investigation is now under way to aid in curbing transmission,” the DOH statement read.
The health department said scientists in the Philippines were preparing to submit the findings from Central Visayas to the World Health Organization and the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.
“[This is] to aid in the ongoing global effort to track and study new and emerging genomic changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which vaccine manufacturers may use to recalibrate vaccines and ensure efficacy against COVID-19,” the DOH said.
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