MANILA — Starting Feb. 1, travelers arriving in the country will get tested for the novel coronavirus on the fifth day of their stay in the Philippines, instead of having two tests as previously required, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
The inter-agency task force on COVID-19, which met on Tuesday, required arriving passengers, "regardless of their origin," to "undergo facility-based quarantine upon arrival," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"They shall then undergo RT-PCR test on the fifth day from their date of arrival in the country, unless the passenger shows symptoms at an earlier date while on quarantine," he said in a statement.
"Once a passenger tested negative, the passenger shall be endorsed to the local government unit of destination where the passenger shall continue the remainder of the 14-day quarantine under the strict monitoring of the LGU," the official added.
The new protocol shall take effect on Feb. 1 "for all persons who shall be allowed entry to the Philippines," said Roque.
Asked if this meant that travelers will not be tested upon arrival, Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Rachel Queenie Dizon-Rodulfo said "yes."
"An operational guidelines will be released before Feb. 1," she told reporters.
"For efficiency in government, and also to be more rational in doing things, atin pong ginawa ito (we did this)," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a public briefing.
The Department of Health had recommended fifth day screening as a second test for travelers after several contacts of the country’s first patient with the new COVID-19 variant tested positive for the disease, days after they tested negative upon arrival in Manila.
The IATF resolution has a "colatilla" that if travelers feel unwell or are under "high suspicion" of having COVID-19, they will be tested upon arrival, she said.
"Ang kailangan po nating maintindihan, iyong ating prinsipyo na isolation first," said the health official. "As long as we isolate them, even though they are positive, we are assured na naka-confine lang sa kuwartong iyon ang sakit at hindi makakapanghawa."
(What we need to understand is our principle of isolation first. As long as we isolate them, even though they are positive, we are assured that the disease is confined to that room and will not spread.)
The resolution states that during quarantine, there will be no "cavorting" among travelers, and that they will stay in separate rooms, she said.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said people who are infected with COVID-19 and are still in the incubation period might test negative even with the PCR test, which is considered the gold standard for coronavirus screening.
The variant includes a genetic mutation in the "spike" protein, which could theoretically result in easier spread of COVID-19.