RT-PCR requirement for all Davao-bound airline passengers further relaxed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 July) —  Mayor Sara Duterte has further relaxed the requirement for all airplane passengers bound for this city as they are no longer required to present negative results from a Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test issued within 72 hours prior to scheduled departure.

RT-PCR is considered the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.

Davao International Airport.

During her live interview over Davao City Disaster Radio (DCDR 87.5) on Wednesday, Duterte said the latest airport safety protocol took effect on Wednesday after an online meeting last Tuesday evening with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease, which asked her to justify the rigid requirement for flight passengers.

Several inbound passengers had earlier complained about the protocols imposed by the city, initially of negative RT-PCR test results issued within 48 hours from departure effective July 20,  changed to 72 hours on July 21 and changed again on July 22.

She said all passengers may now board the plane from any airport of origin even without negative RT-PCR test results.

But she encouraged passengers to secure a negative RT-PCR test result, issued not more than 72 hours from the scheduled flight, to avoid experiencing inconvenience upon arrival here.

“Those who have no (negative) RT-PCR test results will be held and we will test all of them, without exception, and they should be prepared to wait for at least 24 hours,” she said.

She said all arriving passengers, be they on regular commercial flights or sweeper flights of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), will be swabbed for free and will have to wait in designated holding areas inside the airport until the test results come out after 24 hours.

She said all passengers will have to undergo RT-PCR testing, even for non-Davao City residents.

The city government, she said, will pay for the tests, a move welcomed by inbound passengers. Earlier, City Tourism Officer Generose Tecson said those found to have negative RT-PCR tests beyond 48 hours will be re-tested at their own expense. The cost of RT-PCR test would cost 6,500 pesos, she said.

But the mayor said on Wednesday that the city government will shoulder the cost of the test.

“We do not distinguish if they are Davao City residents or non-Davao City residents because we can hardly distinguish if this person is telling the truth if he resides in Davao City or not. What we did, as a way of helping other LGUs (local government units), we will test all of them, and they will bring the RT-PCR test results back to their LGUs,” she said.

Duterte added passengers with negative RT-PCR test results taken within 72 hours from their place of origin will be able to leave the airport immediately upon arrival and can proceed with the mandatory 14-day home quarantine.

“To ensure a safe and orderly exit out of the airport, may we solicit that airlines be requested to deplane all those with a negative RT-PCR test result first, followed by all those without their RT-PCR test result,” Duterte said in a letter addressed Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade dated July 21.

For international flight passengers, the mayor said the Davao International Airport will honor the negative RT-PCR test result within 72 hours from the domestic departure date conducted by a laboratory overseas provided that results written in a foreign language must have an English translation.

Duterte said she told the task force that the rigid requirement was intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the city, which saw more confirmed cases from passengers arriving at the airport.

“There was a discussion last night. I told them, ‘first of all, we saw that it’s the air travelers who spread the virus quickly, from Wuhan (in China) to the rest of the world and from NCR (National Capital Region) to the rest of the Philippines,” she said.

The local government needs to implement control measures to ensure that air travelers will not transmit the dreaded virus into the city, to keep the airport open, and to sustain both inbound and outbound regular flights, she said.

She said the local government would not resort to imposing a travel ban and closing the airport to control the spread of the disease.

“So, the travel ban and closing the airport is out of the question,” she said.

But the mayor said the local government may no longer pursue its plan to allow full resumption of all Davao-bound commercial flights due to the limitation of the holding areas where passengers wait for the results of the RT-PCR test.

Before COVID-19, the airport here serviced 21 domestic fights and six international flights.

In February 2020, Cathay Dragon’s Davao-Hongkong-Davao and Xiamen Air’s Davao-Quanzhou(Jinjiang)-Davao flights were suspended while the following flights were suspended in March: Cebu Pacific’s Davao-Singapore-Davao; Garuda Indonesia’s Davao-Manado-Davao; Qatar Airways’ Davao-Qatar-Davao, SilkAir’s Davao-Singapore-Davao.

Domestic flights were also suspended in mid-March when the city was placed under community quarantine until April 4,  enhanced community quarantine from April 4 to May 15, general community quarantine from May 16 to June 30 and modified GCQ from July 1 to 16, extended to July 31.

A few mercy flights landed in May but the bulk of arrivals at the airport came in June when the airport reopened.  The airline companies, however, have not returned to their pre-COVID 19 daily schedules.

The mayor said the local government has prepared five holding areas, including a separate holding area for seniors, persons with disabilities, and families with small children.

“The turnover should be quick before we can add flights. Let’s see by August since there is another laboratory that will open next month. By then, maybe our testing will be much faster and we can add flights,” she said.

The City Government’s advisory on flights showed that the three major carriers only two flights per week for their Davao-Manila-Davao route, Mondays and Wednesdays for Cebu Pacific, Mondays and Thursdays for Philippine Airlines,. and Wednesdays and Friday’s for Air Asia. (Antonio L. Colina IV with a report by Yas D. Ocampo / MindaNews)