Davao City not inclined to reimpose RT-PCR test for inbound domestic air passengers

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) personnel assist overseas Filipino workers upon their arrival at the airport in Davao City. A total of 382 of them came home from Dubai on Friday (6 August 2021). MindaNews photo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 06 Dec)  – The City Government of Davao is not inclined to reimplement the “test before travel” policy for arriving domestic air passengers amid the threat posed by Omicron, a new variant of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Mayor Sara Duterte said Monday.

Duterte told Davao City Disaster Radio (DCDR 87.5) that the local government will follow the guidelines provided by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

“The one drafting the guidelines for arriving passengers is the IATF. Whatever are the guidelines of the IATF, that’s what we will follow,” she said.

The mayor said the IATF-MEID imposed a “test before travel” on international travelers arriving in the country, but no similar requirement was imposed on domestic travelers.

“For international travelers, the negative test result will be required at the Davao International Airport, she said.

Singapore’s Scoot Airlines launched its direct maiden flight here last December 1, for its thrice-a-week flights (Sunday, Wednesday and Friday).

Owing to the threat of the Omicron variant, the Philippines imposed stricter rules effective Dec. 3 to inbound international travelers. Fully vaccinated individuals must present a negative RT-PCR test result taken within 72 hours before departing from the country of origin. Upon arrival in the country, they need to undergo a facility-based quarantine and need to re-take a swab test on the fifth day.

They are required to undergo home quarantine for 14 days upon arrival regardless of a negative test result.

Omicron was first detected last month by scientists in South Africa and has since spread to at least 38 countries, according to the World Health Organization, which noted that “early data suggests that it could be more contagious than the Delta variant.”

Duterte ordered the lifting of the requirement of a “negative” reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result issued 24 to 72 hours before entering Davao City last November 16 until January 15, 2022, after the city reported a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 cases due to high vaccination rate.

The order effectively suspended the implementation of Davao City Ordinance No. 0477-21, known as the “Ordinance Providing for Mandatory Testing Prior to Entry into Davao City via Davao International Airport after the city has been placed under Alert Level 2 from Alert Level 3 starting November 15 until 30.

“There is a need to provide a new guide for travelers by land, sea or air travel both domestic and international, following the decrease in the number of cases reported and the active vaccination rollout within the city,” the order said.

Section 1 provides that all travelers entering the city by land and all arriving domestic travelers by sea and air shall no longer be required to present their 24 to 72 hours negative RT-PCR test results.

It added that “no document shall be required for entry into Davao City, except for security checks that may be required by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) personnel, for the purposes of anti-crime, anti-illegal drugs and anti-terrorism operations.”

Under Section 2, all international air passengers arriving in the city, including those international passengers arriving through connecting flights, shall comply with the requirements and guidelines provided by the IATF-MEID.

Duterte said the policy was implemented last year as the city wanted to avoid a surge driven by the arrival of air passengers.

But she added that the city needs to balance the local economy and the movement of goods and people against the need to curb COVID-19.

“Our local economy was severely affected. We imposed a “test before travel” because we did not want our positive cases to grow at a faster rate. We were then managing so many cases, and did not want to add to it through air travel,” she said.

As of December 2, the city recorded a total of 977,382 fully vaccinated individuals or 81.44% of the 1.2 million target to reach herd immunity. At least 1,147,410 have already been administered with the first dose.

According to the Department of Health-Davao, the city recorded three new COVID-19 cases as of December 5, bringing the total cases to 53,817 with 125 active, 51,909 recoveries and 1,783 deaths. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)