The Philippines will soon welcome back foreign tourists, the government said Friday, as it prepares a partial re-opening to vaccinated travellers 20 months after closing its borders to contain the coronavirus.
Tourism operators across the country, known for its beaches and dive spots, have been devastated by a plunge in international visitors and restrictions on domestic travel since the start of the pandemic.
The government's COVID-19 task force has "approved in principle" the tourism department's request to permit entry to vaccinated travellers from countries with a low infection rate, Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat said.
Borders will reopen "soon," according to the statement, without providing a date.
"Allowing tourists from green countries or territories that have the majority of its population vaccinated and with low infection rate, will greatly help in our recovery efforts," Puyat said.
"This move will likewise aid in bolstering consumer confidence, which is a large contributor to our gross domestic product," she added.
More than 40 countries and territories are currently classified "green" – low risk and exempt from quarantine requirements – including China, Indonesia and Zimbabwe.
Tourism is a major driver of the Southeast Asian country's economy, accounting for nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, when it attracted more than eight million visitors, official data show.
That slumped to 5.4 percent last year as tourist arrivals plummeted 82 percent to 1.48 million. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
A Special Technical Working Group on Travel has been tasked to draft the guidelines for final approval of the IATF.
Only fully vaccinated individuals with vaccines recognized by the country’s Food and Drug Administration under an Emergency Use Authorization or those authorized by the World Health Organization will be allowed entry to the country.
“Our ASEAN neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia also did the same. We believe that it is also time for us to reopen our borders for inbound tourism as a way towards full recovery,” Puyat said.
The DOT will also be working on another proposal with the STWTG on a special program for vaccinated tourists coming from yellow list countries, who may be able to enter the country under certain restrictions and strict conditions.
Meanwhile, the Philippine government will shorten the quarantine period for fully vaccinated returning overseas Filipinos coming from “yellow” list countries, territories, and jurisdictions, Malacanang said.
Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said starting Nov. 22, fully vaccinated travelers from yellow list areas would be required to present a negative RT-PCR test conducted 72 hours prior to their departure from origin.
Upon arrival, they shall undergo a 3-day facility-based quarantine. They will be tested for COVID-19 on the third day, with the date of arrival considered the first day, Nograles said.
Originally, international passengers from yellow countries are mandated to undergo 14-day quarantine upon their arrival and take the RT-PCR test on their seventh day in the country.
For its part, Cebu Pacific said it had added more flights to key domestic destinations, following the easing of travel restrictions.
The Gokongwei-led airline will increase its Manila-Boracay-Manila flights from six to nine times daily starting November 22, operating more than its pre-COVID capacity to the island. By next month, Boracay flights from Cebu will be up to six times weekly.
Flights between Bohol and Manila will also increase from 12 times weekly to twice daily starting November 23.
By December, operations between Cebu and Manila will increase from six times daily to nine times daily, while flights to Cagayan de Oro will ramp up from five times daily to up to six times daily.
Manila to Davao flights will go up to three (3) times daily from five times weekly in December.
“We continue to ramp up our domestic network to address rising travel demand and promote safe and responsible travel," said Xander Lao, chief commercial officer at Cebu Pacific.