MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 clarified Sunday that the Philippines is still accepting inbound flights from Hong Kong, contrary to a statement made by its spokesperson earlier in the day.
"The NTF wishes to clarify that the inclusion of Hong Kong Flights as part of inbound international flights temporarily suspended due to the emergence of the Omicron variant is not yet final," it said in a statement on Sunday noon.
The NTF said it was still waiting for a formal announcement from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
"Until a formal announcement from the IATF is made, Hong Kong flights will still be allowed. We apologize for any inconvenience an earlier pronouncement may have caused," it added.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the acting IATF and Malacanang spokesman, said all inbound international travelers will be subjected to the testing and quarantine protocols for "Yellow List" countries.
This will include arrivals from Hong Kong, Nograles added.
"Inbound international travelers coming from Hong Kong shall comply with the testing and quarantine protocols for “Yellow” list countries," he said.
Fully vaccinated passengers from Yellow List countries are required to present a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours from departure to the Philippines. They are also required to undergo a facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative RT-PCR test taken on the third day.
On Sunday morning, NTF Spokesperson Restituto Padilla told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo that Hong Kong had been included in the list of countries that have been banned from sending flights to the Philippines after the territory reported a case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.
The Philippines earlier suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique due to the Omicron variant, which was recently listed by the World Health Organization as a "variant of concern."
On Sunday, it added Austria, Czech Republic and other European countries to the list.
Hong Kong hosts many overseas Filipino workers, some of whom are expected to come home for the holiday season. It is under the Philippines' "Green List," based on the latest IATF resolution issued last Nov. 11.
In the same interview, Padilla said the government would implement "early detection" and contact tracing in the event that the Omicron variant is found in the country.
Hospitals are also prepared for another surge in COVID-19 cases, based on experiences from previous waves of infections, he said.
Padilla said officials would also be quick to implement tougher alert levels in areas that would see a rise in COVID-19 cases.
But for now, the National Capital Region and most areas will still remain under Alert Level 2.
"Kapag ipinapakita ng datos na may pagtaas at kinakailangang maghigpit, 'yong alert level po ay maaaring i-elevate kaagad," he said.
(If the data shows that there is an increase in cases and we need stricter restrictions, the alert level will be elevated immediately.)
[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article reported that flights from Hong Kong going to the Philippines are temporarily banned, as announced earlier in the day by NTF vs COVID spokesman Restituto Padilla. The NTF clarified in a statement released around noontime that the temporary suspension is not yet final.]