PH mulls tests for travelers from ‘high-alert countries’ as COVID-19 cases surge in China

Sofia Tomacruz

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PH mulls tests for travelers from ‘high-alert countries’ as COVID-19 cases surge in China

TRAVEL. Travelers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing, China, December 27, 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters

The Bureau of Quarantine is coordinating with airport and seaport terminal authorities 'for the possible reestablishment of testing of inbound travelers from high-alert countries'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is mulling COVID-19 tests for travelers arriving from “high-alert countries,” as cases have soared in China following the abrupt end of its strict lockdown policies earlier this month.

The Bureau of Quarantine has issued a memorandum to all quarantine stations, reminded its personnel to “continuously intensify” quarantine protocol such as heightened surveillance of respiratory symptoms in all travelers from China following the escalation of cases in the neighboring country “in recent weeks due to the prevalence of the viral mutation and subvariants.”

Among the intensified quarantine protocols is to “coordinate with airport and seaport terminal authorities for possible reestablishment of testing of inbound travelers from high-alert countries.”

On the same the memo was issued on Thursday, December 29, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was asked if additional testing restrictions on arrivals from China would be imposed.

“As long as it’s based on science and we feel that there’s a need, we will do it,” he said.

“But again, it depends on what the true risk is to us,” added the Philippine leader who is pushing through with a state visit to China on January 3, despite the surge in cases in that country.

The Philippines’ Department of Health, meanwhile, told reporters that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases would discuss and draft guidelines on how to respond to the current COVID-19 surge in China.

The guidelines, it added, would include “border control” recommendations for Marcos’ approval.

Before the sudden end of its “zero COVID” strategy in early December, China had implemented some the world’s strictest and longest lockdown measures, shuttering cities, pooling tests, and requiring individuals positive for and suspected of having the virus to isolate in facilities.

With the nearly three-year-old restrictions pulled back and broadly eased, COVID-19 infections have barreled across China with little transparency, overwhelming hospitals and prompting countries such as the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Italy to mandate testing of travelers from China.

Currently, travelers arriving in Manila will only need to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test if they are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated.

In 2022, the Philippines had lifted most of its COVID-19 health restrictions, with tourism was cited as among the main reasons for the Marcos administration’s decision to lift mask mandates for both indoor and outdoor settings.

Before the pandemic, China was the Philippines’ second largest source of tourist arrivals, with some 1.7 million tourists visiting the country. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.