The Department of Health (DOH) will recommend extending the state of calamity for COVID-19 in the country for next year should Congress reject its proposed bill on a public health emergency.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said they will urge the Office of the President to extend anew the state of calamity, which is set to expire on December 31.
“The option really is for us to extend the state of calamity or file another bill that only has a little content and is only specific to our requirements if the state of calamity will not be extended,” she said in a press briefing Tuesday.
The Department has urged lawmakers to pass the Public Health Emergency for Emerging and Reemerging Disease Bill and a measure that would establish the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
“Part of those bills would be that even though there is no state of calamity declaration or public health emergency declaration, we can still continue on to implement our vaccination program,” Vergeire said.
“We can still do expedited procurement. We can still do the other things we are doing right now for this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte on Tuesday backed the appeal of Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco to local officials through the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to lift entry restrictions on travelers that they had enforced in their respective local government units (LGUs) since the pandemic broke in 2020.
“Keeping the restrictions on the entry of travelers or tourists up to now defeats the purpose of Executive Order (EO) No. 7, which President Marcos had issued to further relax anti-Covid health and travel protocols nationwide as part of accelerated government efforts to fully open the economy and rev up the once flourishing tourism sector into an engine of post-pandemic high growth,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte said EO 7 will be rendered useless if international travelers or tourists would finally be enticed anew to go to the Philippines, “only to end up being saddled, upon their arrival in the national capital or elsewhere, with troublesome entry requirements in the local places they want to visit.”
“How can Malacañang Palace and the DOT (Department of Tourism) convincingly tell the rest of the world that the Philippines is truly open for business and for tourists if the burdensome travel protocols that were put up as part of the anti-Covid lockdowns or mobility restrictions are still in place?” he said.
In March 2020, former President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation No. 922, which declared a state of public health emergency in the country due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In September, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., two months after he took office, extended the state of calamity throughout the country until the end of the year.
Since the pandemic began, the Philippines has tallied some four million coronavirus infections, of which some 64,000 led to deaths.
As of Nov. 14, the country has 19,821 active COVID-19 cases.
According to a report, Garcia-Frasco told members of the Filipino community during a recent dialogue in London that she was in talks with the DILG on withdrawing local travel restrictions that continue to be enforced by LGUs.
Frasco was quoted as saying: “We’re currently working with the DILG for the purpose of ensuring that any and all restrictions individually implemented by LGUs nationwide are lifted so that we have a national policy as far as the entry of tourists is concerned. The national policy being to welcome our friends and family back into the Philippines.”
Villafuerte, the president of the National Unity Party (NUP), said: “it is nice to know that we are starting to see a turnaround in our tourism business, with the number of arrivals hitting 1.9 million at the start of November, or higher than this year’s official target of 1.7 million and 2021’s total arrivals of 1.4 million.”
“But there is really no room for complacency here when one considers that our regional rivals, like Thailand, for instance, already had 7 million tourists as of October, and expects its visitor arrivals to reach a total of 10 million by end-December,” he said.
“We certainly have no way of catching up, much less overtake our ASEAN competitors for tourists when we continue to have barriers like cumbersome local-travel requirements that naturally turn off prospective visitors.”
He said the downward trend in infection rates should help convince LGU officials to heed the appeal of Garcia-Frasco for them to do away with whatever inbound travel rules remain in their respective localities.
Citing a report by the independent OCTA Research Group, Villafuerte said the Covid-19 positivity rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) was down to 7.5 percent early this week from the week-ago 8.12 percent, or the lowest in the region since the 14.6 rate in July.
The positivity rate is the percentage of people found Covid-positive from among the total number of individuals tested for the coronavirus at a given time.
OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David was quoted in a report as saying: “I am confident that the downward trend will continue because our fellow Filipinos more or less know how to protect themselves from the virus, which allows us to keep our businesses and economy open.”
David reportedly projected the positivity rate in NCR to further fall by end-November to less than 5%, which is the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Villafuerte said the lifting of entry curbs for overseas and local travelers in all areas of the country would be the best way to carry out President Marcos’ view that the government should start treating Covid-19 not as an emergency but as something that has to be managed in the long term like flu and pneumonia.
Relaxed health protocols support the President’s belief, as stated in his Oct. 20 speech before the 48th Philippine Business Conference and Exposition (PBC&E), that for the country to open up businesses, we need to “get away from the emergency stance of the DOH … (and) make the Philippines more hospitable to travelers, both business and tourists.”