LATEST TRAVEL PROTOCOLS: TWO DOSES OF CONFUSION
Even under the uncertain times created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the public deserves to have sound rules and measures to follow in line with our goal of preventing virus transmission under eased restrictions, changeable they may be due to unstable circumstances.
Another move of the national Inter-Agency Task Force – this time removing the RT-PCR or antigen test as a requirement for travel for fully vaccinated individuals and withdrawing the same just a few days after it was issued – has led to a confused and distrustful public, who are left with no choice but to go with the flow of frequent, needless backpedaling due to lack of foresight.
With the gradual easing of restrictions and many getting vaccinated against the Covid-19, the national IATF on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has issued a new travel protocol that those who have completed the two doses (or one complete dose) of anti-Covid vaccine need not present a negative RT-PCR or antigen test result for inter-zonal travels upon presentation of their vaccination card, a development that was most welcome for travelers as it will make travels less one costly requirement.
However, the IATF later took back the resolution, subject the same to review, and said to follow the previous guideline that requires an individual to present a negative RT-PCR result to their place of destination if the local government unit requires it.
In less than a week, the public was made to deal with a new policy that was taken back, and then resolved to let discretion remain with local government units after IATF officials met with local leaders on July 8.
It was revealed that LGUs complained since the policy, a welcome move it may be, presented operational difficulties. The Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines also cited lack of consultation with LGUs.
We find the protest valid, knowing that using a vaccination card instead of a negative Covid test result is not as simple as it seems. LGUs need to assure the vaccination card presented by a traveler entering their territories is valid, which means it is issued by a legitimate vaccinating establishment. At the moment, only few LGUs have devised security features on the vaccination cards.
Not having a uniform system to authenticate vaccination cards in place that can be used by all LGUs opens the gate for use of fake vaccination passports, in the same way unscrupulous individuals used fake RT-PCR or antigen results and other required travel papers to get through domestic borders.
The IATF should know no such system has been set up yet, with the Department of Science of Technology, as reported, still working on the “vaccination management information system” that will integrate data on vaccinated individuals in the country.
We find the initial move to require vaccination passports in lieu of proof of negative test result premature. It is hard to understand either, how the now retracted policy ever got approval without assessing the capability and readiness of LGUs to implement it, information that should have been provided by the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Such misstep is not trivial because measures we come up with to manage restrictions on people’s mobility will either lead us or derail our road to new normal and economic recovery. Many had taken the cue and made preparations for personal, essential, and business purposes. Eligible ones may ask for leniency in travel, and rightly so because they are using a privilege earned for having completed their vaccine shots.
Such hopes for relaxed rules, among other measures, should not be quashed by failure to consider things prior to implementation. While we should expect changes in the country’s Covid responses from time to time, it should be because we adjust based on the dictates of the situation and not because we failed to get a grasp of the situation and the minute details.
As this is not first time guidelines under the country’s pandemic response seemed to not have been made in sync with the local settings, we suggest a review of the communication links between concerned agencies and LGUs, and give the latter a major role in the decision-making process being the ones that know their jurisdictions best.LGUs should not be made a mere implementer of cascaded rules. We believe failing to consult with the ones closest to the public means losing touch with the actual picture, which should be most critical under these uncertain times.