Cutting pandemic to flu size doable?
The Philippines is joining a number of countries gradually lifting restrictions on foreign visitors even as authorities worldwide still ramp up vaccination against Covid-19 to pull down the pandemic to endemic level or cut it to flu size.
Starting Feb. 10, fully vaccinated foreigners from more than 150 countries will be allowed entry and skip quarantine in designated centers if they had tested negative two days before arrival. They will just have to monitor themselves for symptoms for seven days.
From the advice of medical experts, then of military task forces, President Duterte now seems ready to try suggestions of business gurus on how to return to pre-pandemic normalcy and perk up the sluggish economy to thus improve the public mood leading to the May 9 elections.
Metro Manila and seven provinces (Batanes, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Biliran, Southern Leyte, and Basilan) with declining infections have been downgraded to Alert Level 2, allowing businesses there to operate at 50 percent indoors for those fully vaccinated, and 70 percent outdoor.
Is the government ready to handle the influx of potential Covid-19 carriers and the resulting freer domestic mobility, then trace the contacts, test suspects and bring back controls if any infection breaks out?
Sen. Nancy Binay, chair of the Senate tourism committee, noted: “We don’t have adequate serological surveillance because we don’t have granular real-time data gathering systems. The bottom line is to learn to live with the virus and get back to as much of a normal society as possible – but not without medical safeguards, otherwise we are bordering on irresponsibility.”
Opening the door presumes there are enough foreigners willing to risk catching the virus in the Philippines and possibly being treated in local hospitals. Since Covid-19 hit the country in 2020, btw, it has infected at least 3,569,700 Filipinos and killed more than 54,000.
A notion has been heard among advisers of President Duterte that the pandemic could become endemic, a stage that epidemiologists describe as “an infection maintained at a baseline level in an area without external inputs” – which is thought to be more manageable.
A variant of this optimistic thinking is that Covid-19 may even thin out into something like the seasonal flu (influenza or trancazo) whose symptoms could be treated with over-the-counter medicines taken at home – a market condition that the vaccine-makers won’t like.
We’ve been waiting for a government doctor, possibly Health Secretary Francisco Duque, to stick his professional neck out and discuss this “flu” descendant of the pandemic so his peers can examine it more closely. (If he is not buying it, he should tell the President early.)
Meantime, we the people have to resign to being guinea pigs of retired generals and economists playing doctor and/or med reps of Big Pharma?
• COVID restrictions in other countries
We checked the other day the arrival requirements and Covid-19 protocols of a few countries. We share some of our notes below, but advise the reader to check updates on their official websites.
• United States – Air travelers aged two and older, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, are required to show documentation of a negative viral test result taken within one day of the flight’s departure to the US before boarding. The traveler must show his negative result to the airline before boarding. That covers US citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals.
• Japan – The ban on all foreign visitors has been extended to Feb. 28. Returning Japanese must quarantine for 10 days. Covid-19 restrictions have been tightened in Tokyo, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Niigata, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Kagawa, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki. Foreigners who have stayed in any of listed 159 countries/regions within 14 days before the application for landing are denied entry.
• Hong Kong – Flights from listed 150 countries and territories are banned until Feb. 15, including those from the US and seven other countries, including Canada, France and Australia. Social-distancing rules have been extended with the requirement to wear face masks, check temperature, conduct contact-tracing, and more at catering premises, bars and entertainment venues.
• India – Fully vaccinated tourists may enter but must test negative within 72 hours of their flight and, depending on the country they are flying from, some will have to be tested again upon arrival. Visitors from countries with agreements for mutual recognition of vaccine certificates with India — such as the US, the UK, and many European countries — won’t have to be tested at the airport.
• Indonesia – Travelers must have proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. They must also quarantine for seven days upon arrival. The airport in Bali has reopened to international flights from South Korea, China, Japan, New Zealand, and the UAE.
• Ireland – Vaccinated travelers need not take a pre-departure test before flying in. The unvaccinated need a negative PCR result taken within 72 hours of arrival. Restrictions removed include capacity and social distancing for indoor/outdoor gatherings. Face coverings must be worn in indoor public spaces and on public transport.
• Israel – Ban on arrivals from all countries has been lifted, allowing all vaccinated travelers to enter. All visitors must take a PCR test on arrival and quarantine until they get a negative result. Israelis must quarantine upon entry, regardless of vaccination status. The immunocompromised and those aged 60 and older are allowed a fourth vaccination (2nd booster shot).
• Italy – All visiting EU nationals must have a negative test both before departure and upon arrival, regardless of vaccination or recovery status. Unvaccinated travelers will have to quarantine. An indoor and outdoor mask mandate using FFP2 masks is in effect. Unvaccinated people are not allowed in museums, exhibitions, and amusement parks.
• France – Masks are no longer required outdoors and the work-from-home mandate has been eliminated. Seated public events that require face coverings will be allowed to exceed 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors. On Feb. 16, nightclubs can reopen and standing concerts can resume.