MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he was "not ready for a compromise" regarding the labor department's appeal to shorten the COVID-19 quarantine period for returning overseas Filipino workers.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, in a taped meeting with Duterte, said only 2.7 percent of returning OFWs tested positive for the novel coronavirus last year, before they were required to stay for 14 days at a quarantine facility.
About 1.5 percent of repatriated OFWs have tested positive for the virus this year so far, he said.
"Kaya nga po kami nakikiusap sana, Mr. President, na kung maaari, we go back to the original protocol, na pagdating ng ating OFWs, swab agad sila, then they are quarantined for 5 days, while waiting for the result of the PCR test," Bello said.
(This is why we are asking, Mr. President, if possible, that we go back to the original protocol, in which OFWs are swabbed immediately, then they are quarantined for 5 days while waiting for the result of the PCR test.)
"Aside from the economic consideration, these OFWs have long missed their homes... Ngayon inuwi natin sila (now we bring them home), and they have to stay for almost 14 days in quarantine."
But after listening to several health experts in the meeting, Duterte said: "There is no compromise here, hindi ako magko-compromise, just an off the cuff statement before I, we make the final decision.
"I’m not ready for a compromise, lalo na ngayon (especially now)."
He did not say when final decision on this would be announced.
WHAT EXPERTS SAID
Infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvaña said during the meeting that the problem with testing OFWs upon arrival is the "timing." For example, if they catch COVID-19 in transit, they might test negative for coronavirus.
It usually takes 3 to 5 days before a person can test positive, Salvaña said. But 40 percent of people could test positive on the seventh day of infection, Salvaña added, citing data from the health department.
"We know that COVID, especially the variants of concern, have come into the country through returning travelers. That is why it is really essential that we have some sort of control," said Salvaña, who is part of the technical working group that advises the Department of Health.
One proposal of experts is to shorten the quarantine period to 10 days, "provided that the person remains asymptomatic during that whole time," he said.
Other options include testing on the seventh day, or completely doing away with testing "but make sure we quarantine everybody until the tenth day," Salvaña said.
"Quarantine should be strictly enforced because whether or not testing is done as long as quarantine is imposed, we continue to keep our borders sage," Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, another member of the advisory group, told Duterte.
Dr. Marissa Alejandria added: "That's the policy that we can adopt if we are to . . . take into consideration the economic burden, the physical, emotional burden that the 14-day quarantine is imposing.
"The quarantine period should not go below 7 days."
Some countries impose a 21-day quarantine on travelers, noted Dr. Maria Paz Corrales, DOH-Metro Manila assistant regional director.
The Philippines has tallied 962,307 coronavirus infections, of which 116,434 remain active as of Wednesday.