Opinion

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Welcome back

With COVID cases down and the vaccination rate up, the government is preparing to put out the welcome mat to international leisure travelers.

The easing of arrival restrictions will be limited to fully vaccinated travelers from countries or economies on the so-called green list with low COVID risk. From Nov. 16 to 31, these are American Samoa, Bhutan, Chad, China, Comoros, Falkland Islands, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mali, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Montserrat, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Northern Mariana Islands, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sint Eustatius, South Africa, Sudan, Taiwan, Togo, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Only COVID vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization and approved for emergency use in the Philippines by the Food and Drug Administration will be recognized.

While this is certainly welcome news for the hospitality industry, lifting quarantine requirements for such travelers must be accompanied by an efficient system of contact tracing and testing. The travel itineraries in particular must be carefully reviewed for transits or stopovers in places outside the green list that are now facing a fresh COVID wave.

Europe is grappling with a renewed COVID surge that has prompted a return to mask mandates and mobility restrictions including lockdowns. The United Kingdom is facing a spike in cases attributed to a more infectious strain of the highly contagious Delta variant.

While tourism thrives in a hassle-free environment, these are extraordinary times, and the unprecedented global health crisis is not over. Fully vaccinated individuals can still be infected or act as carriers of the COVID virus. The government must make sure it can test and trace for COVID anyone entering the country for whatever purpose.

It’s been a long, crippling 20 months of lockdowns to contain a virus that has infected over 2.8 million people and killed 47,074 in the Philippines as of yesterday. While infections have slowed down, cases went up again yesterday, with 2,227 cases recorded.

All experts are warning against complacency, vaccine overconfidence and letting down one’s guard. It is useful to remember that the first two COVID patients in the Philippines, with one of them becoming the first fatality, were tourists straight from China’s Wuhan City where the coronavirus orginated.