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Duterte tells Cebu to drop own health protocols for international arrivals

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Cebu province to follow the national government’s testing and quarantine protocols against COVID-19 for arriving international passengers.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the President issued the directive after the province earlier insisted to enforce its own swab test-upon-arrival policy for returning Filipinos at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, which is different from the national government’s guidelines.

Roque issued the statement after Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea’s order to divert Cebu-bound flights to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) expired on June 12.

“From the Office of the Executive Secretary, the President has decided that the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) protocols must be implemented by the Cebu province,” Roque said.

The flight diversion was first imposed from May 29 to June 5 due to the shortage of quarantine hotels in Cebu.

The decision to tap NAIA as an alternative hub for Cebu-bound flights was meant to prepare for the implementation of the national government’s testing and quarantine protocols for incoming passengers in the province.

Roque said the last extension “was just a preparation for full implementation” of the IATF protocols for incoming passengers.

“The President has also considered the DOH (Department of Health) critique and has decided that Cebu province must abide by IATF arrival protocols,” he added.

Roque said it would be up to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to see to it that Cebu follows the government’s health protocols.

Cebu had required incoming passengers to undergo testing upon arrival at the airport and allowed those who tested negative to proceed to their destinations.

Under IATF rules, all incoming passengers must undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. The first 10 days shall be observed in an accredited quarantine facility, with the remainder will be completed under home quarantine. They will undergo the polymerase chain reaction test on the seventh day of their quarantine.

Passengers who have been vaccinated in the country, on the other hand, will have a shorter quarantine period of seven days upon arrival. They will only be tested if they show COVID-19 symptoms during quarantine.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, meanwhile, said she would virtually attend the Senate’s hybrid public hearing on Tuesday that will center on the government’s COVID-19 response and existing quarantine protocols.

In a text message to reporters on Monday, Garcia confirmed that she received an invitation from Senate President Vicente Sotto III to attend the hearing.

“Yes. (I will attend) virtually,” she said.

Sotto’s letter noted that among the concerns to be discussed are “the utilization of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program’s budgetary provisions and the feasibility of amending IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) quarantine guidelines, with the end in view to streamline the processes, evaluate existing protocols, and the possibility of exempting fully vaccinated individuals from mandatory travel quarantine.”

The Senate’s Committee of the Whole will reconvene to tackle the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program and related issues, including quarantine protocols. The committee began conducting an inquiry into the vaccination program through Adopted Senate Resolution No. 79 passed in December 2020. Garcia is expected to shed light on Cebu's COVID-19 quarantine protocols while Senator Francis Pangilinan is expected to give a privilege speech during the hearing.

The Cebu governor has been pushing for the swab-upon-arrival rule for returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), which has shown to have helped bring down COVID-19 cases in Cebu province.

Since the policy was implemented in March this year, Cebu has seen a decreasing number of COVID-19 infections, she said.

Garcia pointed out that aside from allowing a shorter quarantine period for returning Filipinos, her policy also eases their emotional and financial burden.

In March 2021, the provincial government decided to test all Filipinos from abroad upon arrival at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

While waiting for the results, they need to go on hotel quarantine for a period of only two to three days.

The current national policy, on the other hand, mandates a 10-day quarantine and swabbing on the seventh day from arrival.

Garcia’s order was later adopted into a local law through Provincial Ordinance No. 2021-04.

The Capitol’s swab policy, first introduced through Garcia’s Executive Order No. 17, has since gained support from at least nine senators, including Sotto.

Aside from the Senate president, others who expressed support for the policy are Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel III, Bong Revilla, Francis Tolentino, Joel Villanueva, and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

The Department of Health on Monday said shortening the period between the detection and isolation of a COVID-19 case can help bring down infections.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the national gap between detection and isolation of a COVID-19 case currently stands at about 6.3 days.

In Metro Manila, it takes 7.11 days before an infected person is isolated.

Vergeire said authorities should work to bring this figure down to 5.5 days, and eventually to just one to two days.

In the House, Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said government officials led by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. are not doing enough to address the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Mindanao.

At a congressional hearing, Rodriguez said many of his constituents have already died due to COVID-19.

"People died because of the inactivity of the vaccine czar. Let me state that on record. I really feel bad about this. First, no answer to my letter. Secondly, people are dying because they're giving a lot of vaccines for Metro Manila,” Rodriguez said.

He said he wrote Galvez twice in May seeking additional vaccines for Cagayan De Oro City, but Galvez did not respond.

He also slammed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles for what he said to be a lack of concern for Mindanaoans.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Cebu , health protocols , COVID-19 , international passengers
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