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Know more about what is going on in the Philippines.

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MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:58 p.m.) — Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has ordered a "no vaccination, no ride" policy on public transportation throughout Metro Manila, which transport groups say violates Filipinos' right to mobility and skirts responsibility for vaccination. 

This comes after Metro Manila's mayors unanimously agreed to restrict the mobility of unvaccinated people in the capital region. A number of local governments have already passed ordinances banning the unvaccinated from entering malls and establishments in their localities. 

The Department of Transportation said the policy's implementation will be "initially in the National Capital Region" while Alert Level 3 or higher remains in effect pending the decision of the coronavirus task force. 

Tugade said the DO takes effect immediately after publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation, and the submission of a copy with the Office of the National Administrative Register, U.P. Law Center.

“All concerned attached agencies and sectoral offices of DOTr are directed to ensure that operators of public transportation shall allow access or issue tickets only to ‘fully vaccinated persons’ as evidenced by a physical or digital copy of an LGU (local government unit)-issued vaccine card, or any IATF-prescribed document, with a valid government-issued ID with picture and address,” the DOTr department order read.

'Cumbersome for transport workers, commuters'

According to the DO, a person is considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after receiving their second dose in a two-dose vaccination series, such as with the Pfizer or Moderna brand of vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine such as with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

Sought for comment, The Passenger Forum convenor Primo Morillo told Philstar.com in a phone call that while the commuter advocacy group is pro-vaccine, vaccine access remains the main issue that the department order fails to address.

"We know we aren't efficient with our vaccine rollout, [so] it’s hard to do given the vaccines aren’t readily available. How are you going to do that in a jeep where they don’t have doctors and they’re not terminal-to-terminal? People will be rushing, will you be checking them one by one?" he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

"For the longest time, they couldn’t even implement social distancing for practical reasons...This will only make it difficult for commuters as well as drivers and conductors even though in reality, they do not have a quick and effective way to identify who is fully vaccinated and who is not."

As of this writing, only 67.8 percent of Metro Manila residents are fully vaccinated. 

"How does the DOTr think of this? It will cause more problems, and it doesn’t address the root reason why many are not getting vaccinated, which is access. By this time, they should be able to map who is getting vaccinated and who is not...Before the government can think of these things, we should be ensuring vaccines are available first. Why aren’t they going house to house to vaccinate for example?"

In a text message, Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Transportasyon convenor Dante Lagman told Philstar.com that the policy's implementation "would be too cumbersome for public transport workers who actually to don’t have access to vaccinated persons database."

"It has no legal basis to stand on and, in fact, violates existing laws...After two years, we should already be able to 'live with COVID', if only the health system was strengthened enough to accommodate patients and home care introduced extensively," he said.

"If unvaccinated workers are not allowed on public transport to get to work then it is tantamount to being a requirement for work."

The COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 or Republic Act No. 11525 provides that vaccine cards shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational and employment purposes.

The pandemic task force has, however, made it policy to require vaccination for on-site work in certain industries and for unvaccinated workers to take regular RT-PCR tests at their own expense.

‘Violation of the right to mobility'

In a statement, Partido Lakas ng Masa presidential aspirant and labor leader Leody de Guzman called the policy an "explicit coercion of the masses," saying that the resurgence in coronavirus cases came after the national government "eased all restrictions to increase the consumption of the people at Christmas as a solution to revive businesses and profits."

De Guzman called on the Duterte administration to accelerate and expand the vaccination drive by providing incentives for hesitant Filipinos to get vaccinated. 

"One solution is to provide paid leaves by the private and public sectors to their workers. House-to-house vaccinations may also be considered, as some LGUs have done in the distribution of aid," he said in Filipino. 

"It is infuriating that for two years now, the Duterte regime has not responded to these calls properly," he said.

PLM vice presidential bet Walden Bello slammed the policy as being too tight, saying it is better to just provide financial incentives for those who complete the COVID-19 vaccine than to be strict.

"Yes, [vaccine] certificates should be checked, but segregation, not repression is the answer, as in the case of restaurants.  Unvaccinated people should be able to ride buses and public transportation specifically designated for them, just as in restaurants," he told reporters in a Viber message.

"There is already a negative incentive here, since [unvaccinated] people have to wait longer for special buses, but it is not draconian and repressive."

Under the Order, the department said that violations of the policy are considered violations of applicable general safety and health provisions under any concession or service agreements, authority or permits to operate of public transportation, and other similar instruments. 

"That’s what’s confusing about it because that means Tugade is worse than the former generals in the IATF. Before they said they’d just tell [violators] to go home. This time there’s an actual violation," Morillo said.

"Not allowing them in malls, that’s not essential. But commuting? That’s so essential. If it’s debatable with going to malls, this time, there’s really a violation of the right to mobility."

The Department Order also exempts just two groups from the policy, namely:

  • Persons with medical conditions that prevent their full COVID-19 vaccination as shown by a duly-signed medical certificate with the name and contact details of their doctor.

  • Persons who will buy essential goods and services, such as but not limited to food, water, medicine, medical devices, public utilities, energy, work, and medical and dental necessities, as shown by a duly issued barangay health pass or other proof to justify the travel.

 

"We are exempted as consumers, but we are not exempted as workers. That just means you can buy, you can go out if you want to spend, but not if you want to work and earn. Both of those are important to the economy and to the lives of people," Morillo said. 

"While the right to travel may be infringed under circumstances such as those existing now, to us, it is simply diverting blame away from the government who has failed to take us to the new normal," Lagman added. 

 

DoTr: No discrimination

At a press briefing later Wednesday, Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr., who represents the DOTr before the IATF, said that he expected the policy to be fully effective by next Monday to give passengers time to prepare. He added, however, that it was "continually being implemented today."

"I don’t think there will be discrimination...we are not limiting their right to transportation, but they will not be able to use public transportation. They have other means of transportation," he said when asked about the criticisms over the policy. 

Asked how the DOTr can operationalize the policy, Tuazon said that the burden of the policy is on drivers and operators who will have to check if each passenger is able to present a vaccination card before allowing them to board.

According to Tuazon, enforcers will "work together" to implement the policy in road transportation while the PNP and its Highway Patrol Group has already been asked to help.

He said that the department was looking at "points of checking" but clarified that these are "not necessarily checkpoints." 

Responding to critics, Transportation spokesperson Goddess Libiran said: “It is more anti-poor and anti-life if our countrymen are infected and infect others because they are not vaccinated.”

"Worse, if they infect our public transport personnel, it will be more dangerous and more people will be affected. We want to prevent a repeat of the public transport shutdown...We are doing everything we can to maintain and keep our public transport operations safe and running," she told reporters in a Viber message. 

According to data from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, though, around 71% of households in Metro Manila do not own private vehicles and have to rely on public transportation. 

"They seem to have forgotten that the reason people take public transport is because they have no choice, they do not have their own vehicles," Morillo said in Filipino.

"It is true that others already use a bicycle but first, not everyone has the ability to buy or even use it. Besides not all areas have been reached by bike lanes. It is obvious that our transport officials do not experience the difficulty of commuting and other problems of the simple passenger." — with a report from James Relativo

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MANILA, Philippines — The Makati city government is shutting down the Berjaya Makati Hotel for three months after it was involved in a quarantine breach by a Filipino woman from the United States who skipped isolation, partied in Poblacion and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Makati City Law Department head Don Camiña told reporters that the local government is closing the Berjaya since the Department of Tourism suspended its accreditation following the quarantine skipping mess involving Gwyneth Chua, infamously known as “Poblacion girl.”

“Only hotels with DOT accreditation can operate at this time under relevant DOT and IATF guidelines,” Camiña said.

The Berjaya, however, contested Makati City’s closure of the hotel, saying it "is without legal basis."

"The DOT order is not yet final as the hotel will appeal it within the fifteen-day period it is given. Meanwhile, the suspension is not in effect," the hotel said in a statement.

It added that there is no law that penalizes hotels for failing to report that a guest jumped quarantine and that it has to be accorded due process and be allowed to explain before any penalties are imposed.

The hotel also said that they cannot close down immediately as they still have 18 quarantined guests who tested positive, while 80 more are still in the middle of their quarantine period, and some 20 more guests per week are coming in and have paid in advance.

"To close down a quarantine hotel for no legal reason is to close down a hospital just when it is helping to win the war. There is no benefit to be gained by such regulatory posturing when national interest and public health are on the line," the Berjaya said.

DOT Show-Cause Order

The DOT earlier asked the hotel to submit its response to the quarantine-skipping incident allegations within three days.

In its reply dated January 1, the Berjaya admitted that Chua left the hotel after checking in on her arrival date December 22.

The CCTV footage showed that she left the premises at 11:45 p.m., just 15 minutes after checking in. 

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group have filed charges against Chua, her parents Allan Chua and Gemma Leonardo-Chua, and her boyfriend, Rico Atienza for violating Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

Also charged were Berjaya resident manager Galidolyn Biala, assistant resident manager Den Sabayo, security manager Tito Arboleda, security/doorman Esteban Gatbonton and front desk counter personnel Hannah Araneta. — Xave Gregorio with reports from Ian Nicolas Cigaral and Rosette Adel

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MANILA, Philippines — The government's pandemic task force on Wednesday approved putting the province of Laguna under the stricter Alert Level 3 from January 7 to 15 as COVID-19 cases shoot up.

In a resolution, Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases accepted the recommendation of its Sub-Technical Working Group on Data Analytics to increase the alert level in the province.

Laguna Gov. Ramil Hernandez announced the IATF's decision on his social media account and through the Laguna Provincial Information Office.

According to the latest update from Philippine Information Agency-Laguna, there were 273 active cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Tuesday against just 25 on December 29, 2021. Cases have increased in Santa Rosa City, Calamba City, San Pablo City and Los Baños, it said.

The National Capital Region entered Alert Level 3 on Monday followed by the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal on Wednesday.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government this week said that the government has been monitoring the COVID-19 situation in provinces neighboring Metro Manila since "they really form an integral part of the Metro Manila area." 

Businesses are allowed to operate under Alert Level 3 but at 30% capacity indoors and 50% capacity for outdoor venues to ensure physical distancing. Public transportation like buses and jeepneys operate at 70% capacity.

Metro Manila's mayors have agreed to pass ordinances that will limit the activities and movements of unvaccinated people, a move that they said will help prevent them from catching COVID-19 or passing it on to others.

The pandemic task force has yet to decide on whether restrictions for unvaccinated people will be implemented nationwide. — Jonathan de Santos

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MANILA, Philippines — Muling nagpatupad ang Baguio City government ng “COVID-19 test requirement” para sa mga bumibisita sa lungsod na nagmula sa mga lugar na nasa Alert Level 3 dahil sa pagtaas ng kaso ng COVID-19.

Ang nasabing panun­tunan, alinsunod sa ba­gong direktiba ni Baguio City Mayor Benja­min Magalong ay ipa­tutupad mula ngayong Enero 6 hanggang Enero 18, at kober nito ang lahat ng bisita mula sa National Capital Region (NCR) o Metro Manila na isina­ilalim sa Alert Level 3 nitong Enero 3 hanggang Enero 15, na sinundan pa ng mga kalapit na la­la­wigan ng Bulacan, Ca­vite at Rizal sa kaparehong alert level status mula Enero 5-15.

Sa executive order na inilabas ni Magalong nitong Martes, kailangang magpakita ang turista ng negatibong resulta ng kanyang RT-PCR test na isinagawa sa loob ng 72 oras bago ang pagpasok nito sa Baguio, o kaya ay “antigen test” na isinagawa naman sa loob ng 24 oras.

Ang turista ay maaari ring sumailalim sa antigen testing pagdating nito sa Baguio na isasagawa ng awtorisadong triage units sa ilalim ng superbisyon ng City Health Office.

Ang mga kasama ng mga biyaherong papasok sa lungsod na nagkaka-edad ng 12-17 ay kailangan ding magpakita ng negatibong RT-PCR o antigen test results o kaya ay magpasailalim sa testing procedure sa triage ng lokal na pamahalaan kahit pa bakunado o ano pa ang vaccination status nito.

Pinaigting din ng Baguio City Police ang kanilang border checkpoints sa kanilang mga border para ipatupad ang health protocols upang matiyak na hindi sila ma­lulusutan.

Kahapon ay dagsa ang mga turista sa COVID-19 triage sa Baguio Convention Center upang sumailalim sa mandatory triage bilang pagsunod sa travel res­trictions ng lungsod.

Sa ilalim ng EO 01-2022, nililimitahan lamang ang “leisure at non-essential travels” sa Baguio sa pamamagitan ng visita-baguio.gov.ph ng hanggang 4,000 indibiduwal taliwas sa ulat na nagpatupad na ng lockdown ang Baguio City government.

Ang Baguio City ay nananatiling nasa Alert Level 2, subalit nagpa­tupad na roon ng curfew mula alas-12 ng hatingggabi hanggang alas-4 ng mada­ling-araw upang mapigil ang paggalaw ng mga residente.

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MANILA, Philippines — The government should do away with its current restrictions on travel and instead apply stricter quarantine measures to all travelers arriving in the country to guard against emerging coronavirus variants, doctors said.

"Let’s just revise our guidelines and tighten our protocols regardless if a person came from a yellow or red country," said Dr. Anthony Leachon, a former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19.

Leachon was referring to the government's current policy of classifying countries and territories into red, yellow and green lists depending on the number of COVID-19 cases they are reporting.

Dr. John Jefferson Besa echoed Leachon's sentiments, saying that the present travel policies may no longer be effective, considering Omicron's rapid spread globally.

Besides, Besa said, the Philippines' present policy on travel disincentivizes countries and territories that accurately report their COVID-19 situation, as in the case of South Africa which faced global travel bans after it first reported the detection of the Omicron variant.

"They reported it early, they did their job, which is excellent, but at the end, this put them in a disadvantageous position," Besa said.

Leachon also said that the Philippines cannot simply ban inbound foreigners from countries where Omicron has been detected as the country needs some of these nations to keep its economic engine running.

As of December 31, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Spain currently under the “red” list from January 1 to 15, which means any foreign traveler coming from these countries within the last 14 days could not enter the Philippines.

But Filipinos from these countries can still return through repatriation flights.

‘Travel ban not sustainable’ 

Besa and Leachon said that travel restrictions are not sustainable as these could adversely affect livelihoods.

"You might actually slow down the arrival of variants to the country but we know that the treatment is vaccination and booster," Leachon said, adding that communication, isolation and contact tracing are also key in combatting the virus.

For Besa, evidence-based measures and excellent communication strategies are solutions to any emerging variants.

"There are probably more effective ways to communicate to the public how we need good ventilation, proper mask wearing, handwashing, [and] physical distancing," Besa said.

He also urged the government to revisit the alert level system to limit unnecessary gatherings and non-essential travel. 

The country is dealing with a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks as new infections rose to its highest in two months.

As of January 4, the country has recorded 5,434 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total COVID-19 cases to 2,861,119.

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MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:21 p.m.) — The government cannot fault quarantine hotels for people slipping out of their premises since only the state can enforce quarantine rules, President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday night as he suggested deploying police officers to do that.

The president made the remarks at the top of his weekly pre-recorded televised briefings after the case of a Filipina traveler who skipped quarantine to party hit the news. The party-goer — and another traveler who skipped quarantine to get a massage — has been caught and will be held accountable, authorities have said.

"They cannot be doing the police work for the government," Duterte said, adding government can designate hotels as quarantine facilities but enforcement of the quarantine should be done by government personnel.

"It would not be legally correct to go after the hotel owners or the managers there or whoever is attending to the needs of the people that are inside the hotel because of quarantine reasons," he said.

Duterte, a lawyer, said hotels and facilities do not have the authority to keep people from leaving quarantine and having them do that "would be a messy thing to do." 

He said the Philippine National Police can send police officers to guard the hotels and monitor compliance with quarantine protocols. In a statement Wednesday, the PNP said it will do that and "intensify" its inspections of quarantine facilities.

"Let this be a warning that there is no room for complacency especially [in handling] guests," the PNP said, adding that police presence will be effective "in tracking modus (schemes) such as the absentee quarantine." 

NBI probes quarantine 'rackets'

The National Bureau of Investigation has already been tasked with looking into whether there are schemes that allow people on quarantine to skip isolation for pay.

The tourism department has also been looking into alleged "absentee quarantine" packages available at some hotels, according to a Dec. 30, 2021 BusinessMirror report.

In a statement on Wednesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson stressed that government should also hold the "connections" of Gwyneth Chua — the young woman who partied while supposedly in quarantine — accountable for the breach.

"Nagpabaya o nagpabayad (Whether it was negligence or bribery) does not make much difference," the former national police chief said. He said the "palakasan" or patronage system in the Philippines has to end.

Although implementation of quarantine protocols has been vigorously enforced against ordinary citizens, high-profile violators of guidelines on essential travel and holding large gatherings have regularly been let off the hook.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will be recognizing vaccine certificates from the US, Canada and nine other countries for arrival quarantine protocols, according to the government's pandemic response task force.

Under Resolution 154-E, and on the recommendation of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases says the national COVID-19 vaccination certificates of the following countries will be accepted and recognized as proof of vaccination:

  • Armenia

  • Belgium

  • Canada

  • France

  • Germany

  • Kuwait

  • New Zealand

  • Oman

  • Sri Lanka

  • Thailand

  • United States of America

These certificates can also be used for intrazonal and interzonal travel, although the entire Philippines is currently under Alert Level 2.

This list, IATF said, is in addition to similar certificates from other countries and jurisdictions "whose proofs of vaccination the IATF already approved for recognition in the Philippines, and without prejudice to such other proofs of vaccination approved by IATF for all inbound travelers."

Fully-vaccinated travelers from "green list" countries must undergo facility-based quarantine until cleared through an RT-PCR test taken on the third day from arrival. They can then go on home quarantine until the 10th day from arrival.

Fully-vaccinated arrivals from "yellow list" countries must go on facility-based quarantine until cleared by an RT-PCR test taken on the fifth day since arrival. Their home quarantine will last until the 14th day from arrival.

Validation of vaccination status

Under IATF Resolution 154-C, validation of vaccination status for Overseas Filipino Workers and for relatives traveling with them is currently through "national digital/physical vaccination certificate of the foreign government where they were vaccinated without the need of a reciprocity agreement."

Filipinos who are not migrant workers but were vaccinated abroad need to show the official digital vaccination certificate issued by the government where they were vaccinated "which has accepted VaxCertPH under a reciprocal arrangement unless otherwise permitted by the IATF" or a World Health Organization-issued International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICV).

Foreigners vaccinated in the Philippines need to show their VaxCertPH digital vaccination certificate or Bureau of Quarantine/World Health Organization-issued ICV.

Foreigners vaccinated abroad must show their "WHO-issued ICV, or the national/state digital certificate of the foreign government which has accepted VaxCertPH under a reciprocal arrangement unless otherwise permitted by the IATF." 

According to a list in Resolution 154-E, the following countries and jurisdictions are accepting the VaxCertPH certification for reciprocal acceptance of their government vaccination certificates:

  • Armenia 

  • Australia

  • Austria

  • Belgium

  • Canada

  • Czech Republic

  • France

  • Georgia

  • Germany

  • India

  • Japan

  • Kazakhstan

  • Kuwait

  • New Zealand

  • Oman

  • Samoa

  • Singapore

  • Sri Lanka

  • Thailand

  • The Netherlands

  • Turkey

  • United Arab Emirates

  • United Kingdom

  • United States of America

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BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — The provincial government of Negros Occidental is planning to close its border anew in preparation for the rise of COVID cases.

This developed after Bacolod City, the provincial capital, logged its first case of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID.

Bacolod Emergency Operations Center (EOC) executive director Em Ang said the patient is a 38-year-old male crew of a cruise ship.

The patient arrived in Bacolod on Dec. 31 and is currently in a quarantine hotel.

On Jan. 1, results of the patient’s genome sequencing showed he was infected with the Omicron variant, Ang said.

Chris Sorongon, EOC deputy chief for medical services, assured the public that the patient did not go out of the quarantine hotel.

Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson said there is always a possibility that the number of COVID cases outside the National Capital Region would go up again.

“All actions should be considered because we don’t want another surge. But we just have to be prepared,” Lacson said.

The provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental opened their borders in the past months after the cases went down.

But with the threat of the Omicron variant, Lacson said they would continue to strictly require the S-Pass for inbound travelers.

Records from the provincial incident management team showed a steady decline in the province’s COVID cases since November.

As of Jan. 2, only 172 cases were recorded in Negros Occidental, which is currently under Alert Level 2.

Lacson urged the public to continue wearing face masks as well as observe physical distancing and proper hygiene.

Baguio slows down on tourist acceptance

Baguio’s tourism office is reducing the number of tourists in the city as cases of COVID infections are on the rise again.

As of Sunday, the city health services office logged 10 new infections, bringing the total active cases to 73.

A sitio or purok in the city was placed on a lockdown at around 5 p.m. on Sunday due to suspected COVID cases.

Baguio tourism officer Alloysius Mapalo clarified that the city is not under lockdown.

“We did not stop the entry of tourists. They are actually here,” Mapalo said.

He said that what the city does not allow are additional bookings to the current approved travels that were booked earlier.

This is contrary to earlier reports that say Baguio will no longer accept tourists, Mapalo said.

“We’ll set new limits at a reduced capacity and we’ll announce it once we finalize it,” Mapalo said.

Earlier, the tourism office announced that leisure travel requests on the Baguio VISITA website are temporarily not allowed starting Jan. 2 until further notice.

All pre-approved travels with issued quick reaction code tourist pass or QTP will still be honored on the declared travel date, although visitors will be subjected to mandatory triage.

The city government of Baguio is reducing the number of tourists to prevent another surge of infections. – Artemio Dumlao

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MANILA, Philippines — The government may revisit its pandemic protocols, including those related to the mobility of minors, to holding in-person classes, and to travel as the Philippines grapples with the threat of the more infectious Omicron variant, Malacañang said Monday. 

Metro Manila, home to more than 12 million people, was placed under the stricter Alert Level 3 starting yesterday until Jan. 15 because of an exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The capital region, which used to be under Alert Level 2, is now classified as high risk because of a high risk one-week growth rate and a two-week growth rate and moderate risk average daily attack rate of 5.42 cases per every 100,000 population.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles — acting presidential spokesman — noted that the COVID-19 protocols were approved at a time when the country had a low vaccination rate and the inoculation program was not yet open to minors.

"We have to discuss it first in the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) because remember, when these rules were crafted and announced, that was the time when our vaccination rate was still low," Nograles told ABS-CBN News when asked about the protocols for persons below 18 years old.

"But right now, things are different.  Right now... we are giving vaccination now to (persons aged) 12 to 18...And then many of our senior citizens have been vaccinated. So, let's wait for the announcement ng IATF," he added.Under existing Alert Level 3 rules, persons below 18 year of age and those belonging to the vulnerable population shall be allowed access to obtain essential goods and services or for work in permitted industries and offices. Individual outdoor exercises are also permitted for all ages regardless of comorbidities or vaccination status.

Nograles, also the IATF's spokesman, said a technical working group was scheduled to meet Monday to talk about measures related to the pandemic. Another IATF meeting would be held Tuesday to discuss the protocols, Nograles added.

Existing Alert Level 3 protocols also prohibit the conduct of in-person classes for basic education, except those previously approved by the IATF or the Office of the President. Nograles said the pilot face-to-face classes in Metro Manila would be affected by the escalation of the region's status to Alert Level 3.

"We'll have to reassess that again because the exact wording of our resolution for our guidelines is face-to-face for classes for basic education is prohibited except those previously approved by the IATF or the Office of the President," the Palace official said.

"So, if it was previously approved, technically, it is allowed, but again we’ll have to make a reassessment. That's why the IATF technical working group is working today, then we'll have an IATF full meeting tomorrow and then perhaps we’ll have to make a reassessment of basic education," he added.

While in-person classes in elementary and high school are not permitted under Alert Level 3, limited face-to-face classes for higher education are allowed up to 30% indoor capacity for fully vaccinated persons and 50% for outdoor venues.

Nograles said the IATF has to coordinate with local governments to talk about travel protocols, testing, and vaccination efforts.

"I cannot say for certain where our discussions will lead us but certainly, there are a lot of pros and cons that we have to weigh... Before, when we didn’t have the vaccines or we were coming in very slowly and vaccination was not that high, LGUs (local government units) were very strict," Nograles said.

"So we’ll have to really engage with the LGUs again and talk about this whole thing about testing again or perhaps, maybe really ramp up, maybe what we want to talk about really more is ramping up more vaccinations, ramping up vaccination especially in the provinces and the regions with low vaccination rates," he added.

Nograles said the government is also willing to assess the prices of RT-PCR tests if a better technology becomes accessible.

"Maybe we can start assessing again the prices, although we went through that cycle, we went through cycles of putting those caps on the RT-PCR. So maybe, it can be something that we can explore again or the DOH (Department of Health) can explore again," he added.

The IATF previously announced that a technical working group led by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the National Vaccination Operations Center would craft stricter measures for unvaccinated persons.

Some 57.15 million persons in the country have received their first dose while about 44 million others have been fully vaccinated as of January 2.  More than 1.8 million individuals have been given their booster shots.

In Metro Manila, the number of persons who got their first dose is about 9.35 million while some 9.59 million individuals have been fully inoculated against COVID-19. Nearly 606,000 people in the capital region have availed of booster shots. 

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MANILA, Philippines — The chief of the Philippine National Police vowed the police force would enforce local mandates arising from the declaration of Alert Level 3 in Metro Manila with maximum tolerance and respect for human rights.

This comes after Metro Manila's mayors agreed to pass local ordinances that will restrict the movements and activities of unvaccinated people in the capital region while Alert Level 3 is in effect. 

In a statement, Police Gen. Dionardo Carlos stressed what he said was the "importance of the proper interpretation and enforcement of the protocol," adding that the PNP’s procedure is to reprimand minors who are loitering outside during curfew hours while vowing that "maximum tolerance will be upheld."

“Every police unit, therefore, must be properly oriented with the local executive orders. They may differ from one another to a certain extent according to the wisdom of the local officials, but definitely, they must synchronize with the national guidelines,” Carlos said.

According to the Metro Manila Council, individuals violating city resolutions face "a fine of not less than P20,000.00 but not more than P50,000.00 or imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the proper court, cited in the resolution."

"Any individual or establishment who or which will falsify the COVID-19 vaccine card shall be prosecuted under Act No. 3815 or the Revised Penal Code, as amended, pursuant to Section 12 of Republic Act No. 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021," it also said in a resolution issued Monday. 

Restrictions on the unvaccinated

The same resolution says that unvaccinated people will also be barred from eating at food establishments and will not be allowed to go on leisure and social trips to malls, hotels, event venues and sports and country clubs. They will also not be allowed domestic travel on public transportation.

Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno also announced on Monday the reimposition of curfew hours for all minors from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in his locality as an added measure to monitor the movement of the younger members of the society who are vulnerable to viral infections.

In a video statement posted to his personal page, Moreno added that unvaccinated minors and adults were prohibited from entering malls in the city. 

San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora, on the other hand, said that the city council would call a special session on Tuesday to craft the city's ordinance.

In a separate statement, he said that the ordinance will penalize business establishments that will violate the ordinance and allow unvaccinated people to enter their premises. Likewise, those who will be caught with fake vaccination cards will also be apprehended.

"This will be done for the safety and general welfare of our people. This is also a way of encouraging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated," he said. 

The PNP for its part also said that while it expects fewer people going outdoors, it also appeals to establishments and local government units to assist in enforcement by deploying force multipliers if the need arises.

Thus far, PNP data shows that from November 5 to January 2, over 240,000 violators of curfew ordinances and minimum public health standards have been recorded in Metro Manila. 

This, while 34 quarantine control points have been set up around the National Capital Region and are manned by 654 personnel from the PNP, Bureau of Fire Protection, and Armed Forces of the Philippines. 

'Maximum tolerance'

Police Col. Roderick Alba, PNP spokesperson, added that local governments restricting the movement of unvaccinated individuals "have the authority to set their local guidelines basing from the National direction of the IATF."

"We will exercise maximum tolerance on the implementation of the policies, at the same time making sure that no one is above the law," Alba said in a text message to reporters.

Even as the national police made the same promise earlier on in the coronavirus-induced quarantines, cases of aggressive and overzealous quarantine enforcement piled up in the name of "punishing" the public for its "stubbornness" and "complacency" with quarantine regulations. Quarantine violators were shot, beaten, and arrested. 

When it came to anti-vaccination protesters, though, the PNP was indeed tolerant to the max. 

After members of the group Gising Maharlika held a protest at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila to oppose the vaccination program and pandemic response of the national government and suggest the pandemic was "planned," the PNP at the time was careful to say that it "respects their belief." 

Despite photo proof of the mass gathering going viral on social media, the COVID-denying protesters — likely to be the most affected by the new ordinances — were let off with a "warning."

The Palace announced on December 31 that Metro Manila will be under Alert Level 3 from January 3 to 15 because of an increase in COVID-19 cases and the threat posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"The PNP will remain vigilant in upholding human rights and civil liberties that may be violated in the course of wrong interpretation of these local statutes. The PNP will exercise flexibility to ensure that human rights are protected and the law is applied equally to all," Carlos also said.  

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source: PHILSTAR News
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WASHINGTON, United States — Americans returning home from holiday travel had to battle another day of airport chaos Sunday, with more than 2,600 flights cancelled due to bad weather or airline staffing woes sparked by a surge in Covid cases.

Further disruptions are predicted for Monday, as a winter storm blows eastward.

As of 10:00pm (0300 GMT Monday), more than 2,650 domestic flights or international ones starting or finishing in the United States had been canceled -- almost as many as the 2,750 scrapped over the course of Saturday, said the flight-tracking service FlightAware.

That figure represented well over half of the nearly 4,400 flights canceled around the world. Almost 8,600 US flights were delayed.

Southwest Airlines, one of the hardest-hit carriers, had to cancel some 400 flights Sunday morning, a spokesperson said in an email to AFP, adding that it expected further cancellations.

Passenger Nick Kagy was beside himself after his Southwest flight was cancelled.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME @SouthwestAir," he wrote on Twitter. "We waited on hold for almost 3 hours to rebook because we couldn’t rebook online, and after getting things (not really fully) resolved, you cancelled our second flight to out of another airport."

On Saturday, poor weather, much of it linked to Winter Storm Frida, forced Southwest to cancel 490 flights, most of them in the center-north states south of the Great Lakes and reaching west to the Great Plains.

The result: intense frustration for many travelers.

Missed connections

"This is insane," tweeted Haley, another Southwest passenger who was trying to fly out of Chicago. "This is the 3rd cancellation and still not home. Was supposed to be home 4 days ago!!!"

Airports in Chicago -- a major transit hub -- were the most affected Saturday, but by Sunday the airports in Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Houston and Newark were also hard hit.

A woman named Kayla described her own ordeal: "I was supposed to get home at 10:30 yesterday morning. and at this point I've had 3 flights cancelled and one delayed to the point where I missed my connection."

Around the world, air traffic has suffered snarls since Christmas because of airline staffing issues linked to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

Many pilots and flight attendants have called in sick after testing positive for the virus or being forced to quarantine due to contact with someone who has the virus.

This has left carriers with staffing shortages and forced them to delay or cancel flights.

The latest travel chaos carried echoes of a frustrating Christmas weekend, when around 7,500 flights around the world were scrapped.

And rebooking canceled flights has been a major challenge for many. 

One traveler, Eric Crawford, described his frustration at trying to call a Delta Airline agent to reschedule.

"An estimated wait time of 22+ hours to speak with a rep about a cancelled flight," he said on Twitter, "is not the best look for starting 2022."

And Kowshick Boddu offered this account, also on Twitter, about his troubles with Alaska Air: "We were supposed to fly out from Fairbanks to San Jose on Dec 30, but our flights got rescheduled to today which is eventually cancelled again??? Long customer call wait hours, no response and flights not been rebooked? Need help!!"

Travel woes are expected to continue into Monday, the first working day of 2022.

Storm Frida will continue on a disruptive path eastward, meteorologists said, bringing snow to a wide swath from Washington located on the mid-Atlantic coast up to Boston, Massachusetts in the north.

Nearly 1,400 Monday flights have already been canceled within, into or out of the United States.

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source: PHILSTAR News
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WASHINGTON — From the Mars Ingenuity helicopter's first powered flight on another world to the launch of the James Webb telescope that will peer into the earliest epoch of the Universe, 2021 was a huge year for humanity's space endeavors.

Beyond the science milestones, billionaires battled to reach the final frontier first, an all-civilian crew went into orbit, and Star Trek's William Shatner waxed profound about what it meant to see the Earth from the cosmos, as space tourism finally came into its own.

Here are selected highlights.