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Frasco: PH still open to tourists amid surging COVID cases

Tourism Secretary Cristina Garcia-Frasco 

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said on Tuesday that the Philippines will continue to open up to travel and tourism despite a spike in COVID-19 cases.

At a Palace press briefing, Frasco said the country would continue to move forward even as the number of infections rose to more than 12,000 from May 8 to May 14.

“The pandemic is over according to the WHO (World Health Organization). That’s why while we continue to support the Department of Health’s measures as well as ensure the health and safety of our fellow Filipinos, the direction for the Philippines is forward and that is to ensure that we continue to open up the country to travel and tourism as is the direction set by our President,” Frasco said.

“Of course, all the minimum health and safety standards are in place,” she said, noting that Department of Tourism-accredited establishments comply with these standards.

Early this month, the World Health Organization said COVID-19 no longer represents a global health emergency.

Despite this, Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire has called on the public not to be complacent as the pandemic is still not over.

Earlier, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the COVID-19 Health Emergency has lapsed following its expiration in December 2022.

The DOH reported on Monday that the country’s daily average of new COVID-19 cases increased by 31 percent from May 8 to 14.

In its latest case bulletin, the agency recorded 1,773 daily infections, which is 421 higher than the 1,352 recorded between May 1 to 7.

Additionally, there were 12,414 new cases in the past week.

To date, the country has logged more than 4.1 million coronavirus cases and 66,453 deaths since January 2020.

Despite the tourism push, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said his city would reimpose the mandatory use of face masks to curb an increase in infections.

The city is logging an average of 13 to 14 COVID cases a day, Magalong said.

“We need to observe again the minimum health standards, especially the wearing of masks. So we are reimposing their use here at city hall and other government offices, especially indoors,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English in a video post on Facebook. “We’re now requiring our constituents and visitors to be wearing their face masks.”

Church leaders have also been asked to reimpose the mask mandate, he said.

Meanwhile, the Quezon City government urged residents to report if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or if they have come in close contact with individuals who have tested positive.

“We highly encourage our people to continue reporting cases so we can effectively reach out to them and provide necessary assistance. This collaborative effort will help us mitigate the spread of the virus and further reduce the number of cases,” City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit head Dr. Rolly Cruz said.

Amid an increase in the number of infections in the city, he reminded residents to adhere to health protocols and advised people who are feeling unwell or experiencing symptoms such as fever, a cough or runny nose, to immediately isolate themselves for a period of five days and refrain from leaving their homes or going to work.

Data showed a significant increase in the number of cases last week, with the figures rising to 1,057 cases between May 8 and May 14 from 810 cases between May 1 and May 7.

The average positivity rate of the current week has also risen to 29.9 percent from the previous rate of 26.2 percent.

The occupancy of reserved COVID-19 hospital beds remains relatively low at 35.5 percent, however. The three local government-owned hospitals have only reported one to two severe and critical admissions to date.

Also on Tuesday, the DOH said the Philippines will receive the first delivery of bivalent COVID-19 vaccines next week.

“These bivalent vaccines, which is around 391,000 doses, will be arriving hopefully by next week already,” Vergeire said in a press briefing.

Bivalent vaccines are modified jabs that target the Omicron variant and the original form of the virus.

Vergeire also said the DOH restarted talks with COVAX Facility, a United Nations-backed international vaccine-sharing organization. — Rio N. Araja and Vince Lopez

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