Concerns about PH COVID-19 protocols raised as unvaxxed Pinoys from China test positive

January 5, 2023 - 5:16 PM
Photo showing an immigration clearance lane at the airport from the Bureau of Immigration. (Photo from Bureau of Immigration's Facebook page)

Concerns about COVID-19 protocols were raised after the health department reported that eight unvaccinated Filipinos traveling from China tested positive for the virus upon arrival during the holidays.

The Bureau of Quarantine, the health authority and a line bureau of the Department of Health, on Wednesday reported that COVID-19 was detected in travelers who arrived from Dec. 27, 2022, to Jan. 2, 2023, through an antigen test.

All of them are under isolation after taking confirmatory RT-PCR test on Dec. 31, 2022. Other reports said that it was unclear if all of them got positive results from the confirmatory test.

The DOH said it plans to monitor the condition of the eight individuals.

“In light of this, the DOH assures the public that [the] government continues to conduct COVID-19 monitoring and surveillance activities in the country, as well as keeping an eye for global health events that may occur,” the health agency said.

No additional information was provided on what COVID-19 variant the Filipinos were infected with.

Several countries have already imposed travel regulations for those arriving from China, where the number of COVID-19 cases is rising just after the country relaxed its hardline pandemic restrictions.

The East Asian country is facing a surge driven by Omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7. The latter was recently detected in the Philippines last December.

The DOH has already ordered increased monitoring and the implementation of border control protocols for travelers arriving from China.

It also urged authorities to re-establish COVID-19 testing of inbound travelers from high-alert countries.

Last week, the DOH said it does not see any need to close the country’s borders to China or impose stricter restrictions specific to Beijing.

Current protocols dictate that non-fully vaccinated individuals who are unable to present a negative pre-departure test result are tested upon arrival at the airport.

Some Filipinos questioned the country’s protocols following reports about COVID-positive travelers from China.

“Operative word: UNVACCINATED. Almost 3 years into the pandemic, tapos unvaxxed pa rin??? Tapos sasabihin niyo ‘wag mag-screen ng mga galing ng Mainland China???” a Twitter account commented.

“Dapat kasi higpitan ang pagpasok lalo na [unvaccinated]… kung pwede, huwag papasukin… maawa naman kayo sa mga magkakasakit at baka mag-lockdown na naman… isipin [niyo] din [kapakanan] ng nakakarami,” a Pinoy on Facebook wrote.

“Bakit pinayagan mag int’l [international] travel ang unvaxxed people in the first place?” another user on Twitter commented.

Others also took note of the country’s continuing lack of a chief public authority on health as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

“LOL? Why were they unvaccinated? Why were they let on the plane [in] the first place? And still no Health [Secretary] in 2023?” a Twitter user said in response to the reports.

Physician Tony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, suggested that the country should “revise” its COVID-19 protocols following the positive tests from China travelers.

“We can’t stop the spread of #COVID19, but pre-departure testing and the requirement to show a negative test result when flying from China to the U.S.,” he tweeted on Wednesday, citing an order from the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Though late now, @DOHgovph should do pre-departure RT-PCR or rapid antigen testing for travelers from China going to our country. We don’t want to repeat the sad experience of January 2020. We are prepared now but we can do better to prevent another surge,” Leachon added.

He also suggested for the health agency to “check” the vaccination status of travelers and reiterate efforts for the public to “boost up.”

The BOQ in its latest advisory as of Sept. 13, 2022 said that unvaccinated Filipinos arriving abroad “shall undergo facility-based quarantine until the release of their negative RT-PCR test taken on the fifth (5th) day from the date of arrival.”

Last December 31, it ordered bureau personnel to intensify quarantine protocols specific to travelers from China, such as heightening the surveillance of all respiratory symptoms in all travelers and conveyances coming from the country, “including a thorough review of the submitted Maritime Declaration of Health and health part of Aircraft General Declaration.”

It also said that the bureau should report intercepted symptomatic passengers during arrival screening and submit reports of COVID-positive travelers from points of entry, among others.

The World Health Organization has urged China to share “more rapid, regular [and] reliable data” about its COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths, as well as “more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing” following the staggering rise of its cases.

Bodies have been piling up in Chinese crematoriums while struggling elderlies continue to be crammed in hospital corridors due to a lack of space amid the COVID-19 surge.

International experts predict that the East Asian country will see at least one million COVID-related deaths this year if no urgent action is taken.