Travel Restrictions Further Eased

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THE government has further relaxed restrictions on arriving travelers as the country's Covid-19 outlook continues to improve.

Cabinet Secretary and acting Palace spokesman Karlo Alexei Nograles said in a briefing Friday the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has allowed the entry of arrivals with a valid single-entry 9A visa with a 90-day validity.

Nograles said the arrivals must be fully vaccinated, except minors below 12 years old and traveling with fully vaccinated parents.

They must also present proof of vaccination and a negative RT-PCR test taken within 48 hours from the date of departure, he said.

They will no longer be required to undergo mandatory quarantine at a government-approved facility, but must self-monitor for symptoms for seven days, Nograles said.

Those who cannot comply with the conditions will undergo facility-based quarantine until a RT-PCR test taken on the eighth day turns up a negative result.

The new rules which apply to both foreigners from visa-free and visa-required countries, will take effect starting February 10.

With the easing of entry restrictions, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) sees a steady increase in the number of tourists.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the bureau's Port Operations Division reported a massive drop in arrivals in 2021 as the country imposed strict travel rules in the face of Covid-19 surges.

In 2021, there were only 1.4 million arrivals as compared to the 3.6 million in 2020.

Morente said the numbers were dismal because before the pandemic, the country was hitting 16.9 million arrivals.

Tourist extension applications also slumped in 2021, he reported.

The BI's Tourist Visa Section only processed a total of 111,781 applications for extensions, which was half the 240,276 applications the office received in 2020.

“We remain optimistic that 2022 will be a better year for international travel, especially now that we will reopen our borders,” said Morente. “Hopefully, little by little, international tourism regains momentum.”

He earlier assured that the bureau is ready to address the increase in passenger volume in the airports, as more immigration officers who were down with Covid-19 return to work.

Morente said that as of Monday, 401 BI personnel, most of them assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), who tested positive for the virus or have gone on isolation and quarantine are back at their posts.

The bureau's port operations chief, Carlos Capulong, also disclosed that as of January 31, only 23 immigration officers assigned in the airports were still recovering from Covid-19.

Capulong said 14 of the personnel are stationed at the NAIA, four at the Clark airport, two in Mactan, two in Kalibo, and one in Davao.

“To cope with a sudden or unusual increase in passenger volume we have formed a reserve team of immigration officers from other BI offices who will be tapped to augment and assist our frontliners at the airport if the need arises,” he said.

KRISTINA MARALIT AND FRANCO JOSE C. BAROÑA