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Concepcion: Give our Balikbayans a chance to come home this Christmas

PAL data shows less than one in 377 passengers from US flights tests positive

Data from Philippine Airlines show that the positivity rate among inbound passengers from the US has been relatively low at 0.3 percent, which means that of their average 200 passengers per flight, there would be only 0.6 infected passengers. Even for a full 777 flight carrying 377 passengers, that would translate to 1.13 infected passengers per flight.

This is reason enough to give balikbayans a chance to come home this Christmas, said Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

He made the appeal to the national government as restrictions continue for travelers coming from North America, which is home to many Filipino OFWs, immigrants and their families.

The US and Canada are not included in the Philippines’s Green-listed countries, requiring inbound travelers from these countries to undergo a COVID test after five days at a quarantine facility. The quarantine time has been cited as the primary reason most travelers from North America put off their travel plans to the Philippines this holiday season.

Concepcion has proposed that travelers coming from North America be tested before boarding and then tested at home or at a quarantine hotel once they arrive in the Philippines. The proposed system will necessitate confirmed schedules from the passengers.

“Testing before departure and testing upon arrival with no quarantine required will be beneficial for a lot of balikbayans wanting to see their families. They can do testing at their homes if within NCR or in a facility for one day if they are from other places,” said Concepcion, adding, “This can give peace of mind to our returning Filipinos and their loved ones. Waiting for a negative test result is a small price to pay compared to this reassurance.”

Meanwhile, OCTA Research’s Fr. Nick Austriaco’s risk assessment of additional COVID cases in the country last October found that, based on a monthly average of 6,000 swabs performed on inbound passengers, there was a 0.9 percent positivity rate, translating to 54 cases per month or 1.8 cases per day, which is very low compared to local transmissions of the virus.

OCTA Research also observed that local transmissions account for almost all of the new COVID-19 cases in the country today, and that the fact that there have been no variants of concern since Delta should be a factor in assessing the risk of receiving travelers from North America.

The National Capital Region has vaccinated 85+% of its target population, and the number of new cases has dropped to an average of 600 cases per day, according to OCTA Research. In fact, key indicators have dropped to levels not seen since before the detection of the Delta variant in the country. The average daily attack rate (ADAR) in the NCR is also down to 4.45 per 100,000 individuals, and the reproduction rate is down to 0.43 in the capital region.

“The increased vaccination rates and the dip in new COVID-19 cases should be reason enough for the IATF to consider easing restrictions on travelers coming from North America,” Concepcion said. “Our kababayans want to come back and reunite with their loved ones.”

Meanwhile, COVID cases have continued to stabilize in the US, while hospitalizations and deaths have also declined. In a forum hosted by Go Negosyo last month, US Ambassador Jose Romualdez shared that 90 percent of US-based Filipinos have already been vaccinated and that many are eager to fly to the Philippines but remain concerned about the quarantine protocols imposed on non-Green listed countries like the US.

Concepcion said that easing travel restrictions for North America can help boost economic activity in the country during the fourth quarter of the year, and even more so if travelers from other countries are included in the eased quarantine restrictions proposal.

“Many MSMEs are counting on the increased holiday and pre-election spending to help them recover from the losses during the pandemic. They will be able to pay back their loans and earn enough to provide for their workers’ 13th month pay. There are many things that depend on letting our kababayans come home this Christmas,” he said.

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