Garin: No science to back COVID testing for travelers from China
MANILA, Philippines — House Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin urged the government not to make “drastic decisions” such as reintroducing mandatory COVID-19 testing for travelers coming from China which is experiencing a surge in cases.
According to Garin, there was a “lack of scientific basis” for the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) recommendation to require people from China to undergo COVID testing amid the resumption of regular flights from Beijing later this month.
In a statement on Wednesday, Garin, a former health secretary, advised government agencies to first clarify China’s situation with the World Health Organization and the Chinese Embassy.
She said that decisions on imposing restrictions should be “based on science and not because we heed the clamor of other nations,” adding that closing the doors on China would turn away potential tourists and investors.
DOH briefing pushed
Garin also urged the Department of Health (DOH) to brief other government agencies on the soundness of the DOTr’s recommendation.
“We need to focus on the bigger COVID-19-related problems the country is facing. Making testing free for those who need it, free antivirals for moderate and severe COVID, and realistic PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.) packages. We have a low vaccination coverage. Mutations are likely to happen here,” she said.
Last week, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista floated the idea of requiring COVID-19 testing for travelers from China as Philippine Airlines resumes regular flights for the Manila-Xiamen route on Jan. 13.
Bautista stressed the need to be “very cautious” amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in China, adding that the DOTr was also looking at how other countries were responding to the situation. Some countries, such as Japan, Canada and India, now require negative COVID-19 tests for those coming from China.
For Garin, the most that the government could require would be a negative result from a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test prior to a traveler’s departure.
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante, meanwhile, said that the government need not issue another heightened alert, this time for travelers from the United States, where the emerging Omicron XBB.1.5 was becoming the dominant strain there.
Solante told the Inquirer that while preliminary evidence suggested that XBB.1.5 was the “most immune evasive so far,” it was not a new COVID-19 strain nor was it significantly different from other subvariants.
“If the US is reporting this XBB 1.5, it’s not a new variant. It is still a subvariant of the highly transmissible Omicron,” he said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said that XBB.1.5 was seen as making up about 41 percent of COVID-19 infections in the world’s largest economy.
Solante reiterated the need to get updated COVID-19 shots and to continue wearing face masks to remain protected against the virus.
According to the DOH, there are currently no reported cases of XBB.1.5 in the country. In a statement on Wednesday, it noted that eight unvaccinated Filipinos who entered the country from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2 tested positive during screening at Ninoy Aquino International Airport based on antigen tests.
They were isolated and underwent RT-PCR testing where they were confirmed to be positive for COVID-19.
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