PH reopening for vaxxed travelers lifts biz hopes | Inquirer News
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PH reopening for vaxxed travelers lifts biz hopes

WELCOME SIGN Foreign travelers arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Parañaque City on Thursday as the country further relaxes rules for fully vaccinated visitors. —RICHARD A. REYES

The government further eased the rules for foreign travelers as the Philippines opened its doors to fully vaccinated visitors from abroad, a move that is expected to spur tourism and businesses in the country and help the economy recover from two years of border closures and lockdowns.

The government’s pandemic task force on Thursday said it would no longer require the foreign spouses and children of Filipino citizens or “balikbayans” traveling with them to present a return ticket before being allowed to enter the Philippines.

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In its updated rules, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) also said foreign nationals from visa-free countries who intend to stay beyond 30 days in the country would be allowed to come to the Philippines through an entry exemption document.

Foreign spouses and children of Filipino citizens who are from visa-required countries, or who are restricted foreign nationals, may enter the country without the need for an entry exemption document as long as they have been issued a temporary visitor’s visa.

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All of these foreign nationals must be fully vaccinated and must be able to show proof of vaccination, according to acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles.

Exempted are children below 12 years old who are traveling with their fully vaccinated parents, Nograles said.

These travelers must also present a negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test taken within 48 hours prior to date and time of departure from country of origin or first port of embarkation in a continuous travel to the Philippines, he said.

Ready for reopening

The IATF will also now recognize the vaccination certificates of Brazil, Israel, South Korea and Timor Leste for purposes of arrival quarantine protocols as well as for interzonal and intrazonal movement.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat said at the Laging Handa public health briefing on Thursday that the tourism sector has been preparing for this reopening since the pandemic began in March 2020.

She said the Department of Tourism (DOT) was looking forward to the return of travelers from the country’s top travel market, South Korea, as well as tourists from other Asian countries and balikbayans (expatriates) from the United States.

The secretary said that in many of the country’s travel destinations, tourist workers were 100-percent vaccinated and already getting their booster shots.

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The government began admitting vaccinated foreign tourists from visa-free countries on Feb. 10.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) said it was expecting an increase of at least 30 percent in arrivals or 7,000 tourists on Thursday, the first day of the opening of the country’s borders to foreign tourists.

According to BI port operations division chief Carlos Capulong, this would be higher than Feb. 9’s 4,816 arrivals and most of the expected travelers were Filipinos.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the numbers could rise to 10,000 to 12,000 arrivals a day in the succeeding months.

Also speaking at the Laging Handa briefing, Nograles said the government was confident with its health and safety protocols and that the admission of vaccinated foreign tourists would not lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Nograles said the resumption of tourism activities would lead to economic growth and development because of the many industries dependent or related to the tourism sector.

“There will be a cascading effect in the various industries connected with tourism,” he added.

Hotels back to normal

Puyat said hotels that used to serve as quarantine and isolation facilities for arriving Filipinos and foreigners need not be afraid of losing their earnings since they would be reverting to their status as regular hotels for tourists.

Seventy-six hotels that used to be quarantine hotels have returned to being regular hotels, she noted.

With the number of COVID-19 cases plummeting and vaccination coverage increasing in the country, the hotel industry wanted to go back to normal so that the economy could recover and more people could travel again for leisure, Puyat added.

“The removal of quarantine [for vaccinated foreign travelers] is upon the advice of the doctors, and we comply with it. Our [vaccinated] overseas Filipino workers and expatriates really like to go home and don’t want their vacation days used up by quarantine,” she said.

The DOT chief reiterated the government’s appeal for Filipinos to get vaccinated, adding this would further help ease up community quarantines nationwide.

“To those going around the Philippines, [the travel industry would like] that the restrictions in LGUs be uniform, and not that complicated,” she said.

Puyat said that as part of the DOT’s promotion efforts, the agency was already setting up around 70 “travel circuits” nationwide which foreign and domestic travelers can take while remaining safe from COVID-19.

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