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Concepcion: “Fully vaccinated only” flights alternative to quarantine for PH-Bound Balikbayans

“Green flights”, or flights that carry only fully vaccinated travelers, are being proposed as a solution to easing quarantine restrictions for inbound passengers traveling to the Philippines.

This follows calls to allow Filipino immigrants, their families and OFWs to come home to the Philippines this holiday season. “This could relax the quarantine restrictions further to as low as 24 hours or overnight,” said Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

He said the proposed “green flights” can greatly ease the hesitation among returning Filipinos and international travelers, many of whom would have already spent hours on the plane and currently face five days of facility quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated, and seven days facility quarantine if unvaccinated.

Concepcion had earlier proposed testing inbound international passengers 48 hours before departure and testing again once they arrive in the country. In addition, Concepcion shared that a US-based company has offered to pilot-test a PCR testing technology which can pool testing among 25 passengers and have their results available upon their arrival in the Philippines.

Philippine Ambassador to the US 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 and Canada.

Meanwhile, Concepcion pointed out that the US has already opened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers.

Comparing data between Metro Manila (NCR), Metro Los Angeles and Metro New York, OCTA Research’s Fr. Nick Austriaco during a press conference noted that the NCR has comparable vaccination and positivity rates with the two major US cities, and even a lower number of new cases reported. Despite this, the Philippines still requires the fully vaccinated inbound travelers to stay at a facility quarantine, while the US requires only a preflight COVID test within 72 hours of departure.

Data from Philippine Airlines (PAL) 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.

PAL also reports that they find only 10 percent of passengers from North America are unvaccinated.

Vaccination rates have also been increasing in the Philippines, with the NCR having vaccinated 85+% of its target population. OCTA Research noted that cases in the NCR are now down to an average of 405 per day, with the reproduction number dipping to 0.37 and the ADAR (average daily attack rate) to 2.86 per 100,000 people. These figures are lower than yearago levels.

“We are confident that these are clear trends,” said OCTA Research’s Dr. Guido David, referring to key indicators on COVID which show that there is reason to be optimistic, while cautioning that Filipinos must be vigilant and still adhere to minimum public health standards.

“We have to begin to live as if we believe that vaccines work” said Fr. Austriaco. “Things are different now from six months ago,” he said.

Data is also showing that new infections in the Philippines cannot be attributed to international arriving passengers. According to Fr. Nick Austriaco, homegrown transmissions account for almost all of the new COVID-19 cases in the country today.

Fr. Austriaco shared that the risk of transmitting the virus may be lower among vaccinated persons. He also thinks that the fact that there have been no variants of concern since Delta can also be a factor in assessing the risk involved in receiving travelers from North America. Data from OCTA Research show that surges are mainly driven by variants.

Concepcion said that easing the process for returning Filipinos would redound to benefits down the line for many MSMEs, majority of whom are counting on the downstream income that would be generated by increased inbound international traffic and increased spending among returning Filipinos. It will also save PAL, the country’s flag carrier, which has already filed for bankruptcy, “If we lose PAL, Philippine tourism will also suffer,” he said.

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