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'No vaccine, no ride' on public transport panned as impractical,
violative of rights

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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

Hotel in quarantine breach bucks closure by Makati LGU

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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

Alert Level 3 in Laguna from January 7

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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

Travel restrictions ikinasa sa Baguio City: Turista na galing sa ‘Alert Level 3’ hinigpitan!

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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.

Gov't urged to rethink travel bans, implement tighter quarantine measures instead

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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.

Duterte says hotels not responsible for quarantine breaches, sends cops

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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.

Arriving from abroad? What you need to validate your vaccination status

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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

Negros Occidental mulls border closure anew

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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

Palace: IATF may revisit, update pandemic protocols

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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. 

PNP vows 'maximum tolerance' as it enforces restrictions on unvaccinated

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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.  

US air travel still messy, with another 2,600 flights scrapped

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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.

Your Filipino Community 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. 

Red Planet robot duo

NASA's Perseverance Rover survived its "seven minutes of terror," a time when the craft relies on its automated systems for descent and landing, to touch down flawlessly on Mars' Jezero Crater in February.

Since then, the car-sized robot has been taking photos and drilling for samples for its mission: determining whether the Red Planet might have hosted ancient microbial life forms.

A rock sample return mission is planned for sometime in the 2030s.

With its state-of-the-art instruments, "Percy," as the helicopter is affectionately known, can also zap Martian rock and chemically analyze the vapor.

Percy has a partner along for the ride: Ingenuity, a four-pound (two kilogram) rotorcraft that in April succeeded in the first powered flight on another celestial body, just over a century after the Wright brothers' achieved the same feat here on Earth, and has performed many more since.

"Perseverance is sort of the flagship mission, it's doing a long-term detailed investigation of this fascinating area of Mars," Jonathan McDowall, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

By contrast, "Ingenuity, is one of these cute, small, cheap little technology demos that NASA can do so well," he added.

The insights gained from Ingenuity could help scientists develop Dragonfly, a planned thousand-pound drone copter, to search for signs of life on Saturn's moon Titan in the mid-2030s.

Private spaceflight takes off 

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An American millionaire became the world's first space tourist in 2001, but it took 20 more years for the promise of private space flight to finally materialize.

In July, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson faced off against Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos to be the first non-professional astronaut to complete a suborbital spaceflight. 

While the British tycoon won that battle by a few days, it was Blue Origin that raced ahead, launching three more flights with paying customers and celebrity guests.

Elon Musk's SpaceX entered the fray in September with a three-day orbital mission around the Earth featuring an all-civilian crew on Inspiration 4. 

"It's really exciting that finally, after so long this stuff is finally happening," said space industry analyst Laura Seward Forczyk, author of the forthcoming book "Becoming Off-Worldly," intended to prepare future space travelers.

But it was William Shatner, who played the swashbuckling Captain Kirk on the 1960s TV series "Star Trek," who stole the show with a moving account of his experience.

"What you're looking down on is Mother Earth, and it needs protecting," he told reporters. 

A Russian crew shot the first feature film in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021, and Japanese tourists made their own visit there on a Russian rocket. 

For a few minutes on December 11, there were a record 19 humans in space when Blue Origin carried out its third crewed mission, the Japanese team were on the ISS along with its normal crew, and Chinese taikonauts were in position on their station.

The sight of wealthy elites gallivanting in the cosmos hasn't been to everyone's liking, however, and the nascent space tourism sector triggered a backlash from some who said there were more pressing issues to face, such as climate change, here on Earth. 

Globalization of space 

During the Cold War, space was dominated by the United States and the former Soviet Union. 

Now, in addition to the explosion of the commercial sector, which is sending up satellites at a dizzying pace, China, India and others are increasingly flexing their space flight muscles. 

China's Tiangong (Palace in the Sky) space station -- its first long-term outpost -- was launched in April, while its first Mars rover, Zhurong, landed in May, making it the only the second country to achieve such an exploit.

"In the past 20 years since China finally decided to go big on space, they've been in catch up mode," said McDowall. "And now they're kind of there, and they're starting to do things that the US hasn't done."

The UAE placed a probe into Martian orbit in February, becoming the first Arab nation and fifth overall to reach the planet.

Russia meanwhile launched a missile at one of its own satellites, becoming the fourth country to hit a spacecraft from the ground, in a move that reignited concerns about the growing space arms race.

Washington slammed Moscow for its "reckless" test, which generated over 1,500 pieces of large orbital debris, dangerous for low Earth orbit missions such as the ISS.  

Coming soon... 

The year closed out with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion marvel that will make use of infrared technology to peer back 13 billion years in time.

"It's arguably the most expensive, single scientific platform ever created," said Casey Drier, chief advocate of the Planetary Society. 

"To push the boundaries of our knowledge about the cosmos, we had to build something capable of accessing that ancient past," he added.

It will reach Lagrange Point 2, a space landmark a million miles from Earth, in a matter of weeks, then gradually start up and calibrate its systems, coming online around June.

Also next year, the launch of Artemis 1 -- when NASA's giant Space Launch System (SLS) will carry the Orion capsule to the Moon and back, in preparation for America's return with humans later this decade.

NASA plans to build lunar habitats and use lessons learned there for forward missions to Mars in the 2030s. 

Observers are encouraged that the program launched by former president Donald Trump has continued under Joe Biden -- even if he hasn't been as vocal in his support.

Finally, sometime next fall, NASA's DART probe will smash into an asteroid to kick it off course.

The proof-of-concept test is a dry run should humanity ever need to stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth, as seen in Netflix's new hit film "Don't Look Up."

US donates another P950M to ‘Odette’ response

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Manila, Philippines — The United States will be allocating an additional P950 million to humanitarian assistance for Super Typhoon Odette survivors, its embassy in the Philippines announced Wednesday. 

This brings the total amount of Washington's support for response to the typhoon to P1.01 billion. 

The donation, coursed through the US Agency for International Development, will provide food, aid, water, sanitation and hygiene programs. It will also fund shelter assistance that will meet emergency needs, as well as help affected communities start rebuilding their homes. 

“We stand steadfast with our longstanding friend, partner, and ally in helping support communities devastated by the typhoon,” the embassy's chargé d’affaires ad interim Heather Variava is quoted as saying in the statement. The US is also a former colonizer of the Philippines. 

"This additional assistance will help deliver food and hygiene supplies, and provide life-saving support to those most in need." 

The embassy said Variava plans to visit communities affected by Typhoon Odette to show support on behalf of the American people as well as see ongoing US relief activities. 

Odette, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, tore through the Visayas and Mindanao earlier this month, leaving at least 378 reported dead and causing the declaration of a state of calamity in six regions. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has confirmed only 54 of the reported casualties, another 218 remain unidentified.

Meanwhile, the damage caused by the super typhoon on infrastructure is estimated by NDRRMC to be as high as P16.71 billion while the damage to houses is estimated at P28.16 billion. The Department of Agriculture on Monday night reported that agricultural damage is nearing P6 billion. 

2GO transports relief goods sans freight charges

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CEBU, Philippines — 2GO Sea Solutions offers free transport for donations and relief goods of private institutions supporting government efforts in speeding up rebuilding and helping typhoon-affected families in Visayas and Mindanao.

“2GO is one with the nation and the Filipino people in keeping the Bayanihan spirit alive in the face of adversities. As we navigate through these challenging times, we remain true to our mission to transport our passengers reliably, comfortably, and safely, and to deliver goods consistently and in their best condition,” 2GO assistant vice president for Marketing Blessie Cruz said in a statement.

The SM-led shipping company, has been transporting donations and relief goods port-to-port, free of charge from Manila to Cebu, Bohol, Bacolod, Butuan (for Siargao and Surigao City), Cagayan De Oro, Dumaguete (for Bais City), Iloilo and Puerto Princesa.

As of December 20, 2021, 2GO has been moving essential goods such as food, water, medicines, gen sets, including basket trucks for power restoration. The company has also released emergency funds, provided food, medicines and accommodation for its affected employees in partnership with SM Foundation.

All vessels of 2GO Travel are operational to guarantee same-day sailing schedules to ferry passengers back home this holiday season.

The latest schedule of voyages from Manila bound to Bacolod, Butuan, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Dumaguete, Iloilo, Ozamis, Puerto Princesa, Tagbilaran, and Zamboanga, including Batangas to Caticlan and Roxas has been posted on 2GO Travel’s Facebook page.

2GO Group, Inc. is the Philippines’ largest integrated transportation and logistics provider, at its core has five business units, namely, 2GO Sea Solutions, 2GO Special Containers, 2GO Logistics, 2GO Express, and 2GO Distribution.

A subsidiary of SM Investments Corporation, it offers multimodal transportation, warehousing and inventory management, distribution, special containers, and project logistics as well as e-commerce logistics, including last-mile deliveries, and express courier deliveries.

2GO also provides sea travel, and a wide range of peripheral logistics such as freight forwarding, import and export processing, and customs brokerage. Our company leverages on all our services to create unique supply chain solutions for our chosen target customers.

Your Filipino Community News

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MANILA, Philippines — “A City,” Deyan Sudjic writes, “is never complete, and cannot be a product of a single vision.” With the loosening of restrictions, the island’s people slowly emerged from isolation, and with the end of strict border delineation came the need to rediscover the nature of our own urban borders.

What is the city, perceived beyond the visual sense? Could the concept of “Cebu” exist despite seeing four walls and the same greenery, for weeks?

Throughout the lockdowns, HoliCOW continued its projects and collaborations with our designers and communities, and two collections recently debuted in the Cebu Design Week 2021 conveyed our artisans’ response to this theme.

The four scents of Mayk Lifestyle’s Çabon de Cebu soap line are curated to sketch a loose olfactory map of the concept of “Cebu.” Maybelline Té, HoliCOW PH collaborator and interior designer, layers memory to the mix: the Kalachuchi tree in her own yard (also ubiquitous in most gardens); the mixed-smells of fruit stalls along the highway or outside the church, where Pinya ug Kapayas (pineapple and papaya) stood out the most; Lubi (coconut) in freshly harvested heaps along summery beaches; and Mangga from the orchards in the upper highlands.

Artisanally made in small batches with saponified olive, palm and coconut oils, aloe vera and mica powder, Çabon de Cebu is paraben-free and perfect for any kind of skin type.

For Té, who had been subject to the erratic border shutdowns of the past year, scent plays a strong element of comfort and nostalgia.  “At some point,” she says, “a homegrown Cebuano would find one of these four scents reminiscent of home, through our diverse but shared experiences travelling through the city.”

It also makes for a wonderful takeaway gift for the season.

HoliCOW’s slow-fashion and sustainable-couture Chambray collection is a texture trail that spans the long line of South-to-North travel. Primarily hand-loomed in our partner community in Argao, a municipality south of Cebu, its texture is imbued with both smooth cotton and the slightly rougher, indigenous Tingkal cotton. Tingkal grows only in three southern towns due to the topography signature of the island.

The cloth is then cut to shape and finally embroidered by the women’s sewing cooperative in Liloan city. With only loose parameters to guide them about the embroidery details, each vest carries with it the personal expressions of craft artisans from the texture of the fabric. These were designed with the “throw-on-and-thrive” concept of creating a more structured silhouette after layering over a more comfortable ensemble.

“If it’s for a bust-up Zoom (meeting), or dressing for our first post-quarantine meet-up, we wanted to show how wearing the Chambray also layers on you a small celebration of the skills of our artisans,” HoliCOW PH founding member and Chambray collection designer Debbie Palao says.

Çabon de Cebu by Mayk Lifestyle and the Chambray collection are available in-store (contact to set an appointment) and through inquiry.

France to impose more work-from-home in COVID-19 fight

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PARIS, France — France will order companies to impose at least three work-from-home days a week for employees whenever possible to stem a fifth wave of Covid infections, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Monday.

The new measure, which will be in place for at least three weeks, is one of several announced after a crisis cabinet meeting on the new Omicron variant, which is again threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

The meeting came after France reported Saturday over 100,000 daily Covid cases, a record since the pandemic erupted nearly two years ago, with many experts warning the number would rapidly increase over the coming weeks.

"It all seems like a never-ending movie... but today thanks to our collective mobilisation, we are one of the most vaccinated countries in the world," he said at a press conference in Paris.

The pillar of France's Covid fight would remain a push for widespread vaccination, he said, which could allow the government to avoid more restrictive measures like curfews or business closures that could pummel the economy.

Castex said the country's "health pass" for access to restaurants, cinemas and more would now only be available to fully vaccinated people -- a recent negative Covid test for the unvaccinated will no longer be valid.

He also said that standing would be prohibited in cafes and bars, where only table seating will be permitted, for three weeks -- though he held off on a curfew for New Year's Eve festivities.

Several French media reports had suggested such a move was under consideration.

Currently 78 percent of the country has had at least one shot, a figure the government says represents 90 percent of those eligible — currently everyone older than five.

Castex also reiterated a call for people to get booster shots, which will now be available just three months after receipt of the initial injections.

Minister tests positive

The average number of daily Covid deaths in hospitals has jumped to 162 each day, with the toll in France now 122,642 victims since the start of the pandemic.

And the new measures came as Environment Minister Barbara Pompili announced on Twitter that she had tested positive for Covid after coming down with symptoms, and was self-isolating.

Face masks, already required in most indoor public spaces, could soon be mandatory outdoors on city streets as well, Castex said.

And capacity limits will be reimposed for concerts, sporting matches and other events at 2,000 people indoors, and 5,000 outside — with no standing areas allowed.

No eating or drinking will be authorised in theatres, sporting venues, cinemas or public transport, including long-distance train travel, he added.

But the government held off on postponing a return to class for students on January 3 after the holidays, a measure sought by some 50 doctors and health workers in an open letter published over the weekend.

And in a bid to avoid labour shortages in essential sectors such as education and health care as the number of cases soars, Castex said the government would soon reduce the number of quarantine days required for fully vaccinated people who are exposed to infected individuals.

AirAsia flies to the rescue

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MANILA, Philippines — AirAsia, the world’s best low-cost airline, offered free seats this week to humanitarian aid staff working on Typhoon Odette relief efforts, including those from the UN and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation.

In addition, the airline, through its logistics arm Teleport, offered free cargo space for relief goods going to badly hit destinations.

“On behalf of the board of AirAsia, I would like to send a message of hope and sympathies to the victims of Typhoon Odette. The Allstar family is ‘alwaysREDy’ to go all out in helping our fellow Filipinos during this hour of need,” said AirAsia CEO Ricky Isla.

AirAsia has a long record of supporting organizations that provide relief to communities in crisis, including the floods that swept several Malaysian states earlier this week. During disasters, logistics assistance is crucial to ensure that all immediate needs of affected communities get there when they are most needed.

It also has its corporate social responsibility umbrella program alwaysREDy: anytime, anywhere through which it partnered with organizations like Operation Smile Philippines and Asilo de San Vicente de Paul.

“I would like to congratulate and express our deep appreciation for the work of the Filipino private sector for the Typhoon Odette response, coming together in this time of crisis and working hand-in-hand with humanitarian responders. Considering logistics remains one of the key challenges in accessing the most affected islands, the AirAsia offer of free seats for humanitarian aid workers and free cargo space to reach the most affected areas is critical and indeed life-saving,” said Manja Vidic, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Philippines.

“There are many kinds of love, and AirAsia’s generosity is one form of love that symbolizes the true spirit of Christmas and giving,” said PDRF president Butch Meily.

Philippine Airlines calls for flexible arrival quotas for returning Filipinos

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(As released) Many overseas Filipinos are flying home for family reunions this December and in January 2022 but arrival caps on arriving passengers might lead to stranded OFWs, and overwhelm Philippine embassies and diplomatic posts abroad, especially in OFW-heavy countries such as those in the Middle East.

“Our frontline teams in several countries are receiving a constant stream of requests from OFWs and other Filipinos, begging for a chance to come home and see their families or attend to urgent matters, all the way up to January,” said Dexter Lee, SVP and chief strategy and planning officer of Philippine Airlines.

“We have the planes and the crew ready to fly them, and we appeal for the chance to do so.  We will do all we can to help secure hotel rooms in coordination with OWWA and the other agencies,” Lee said.  

“We have the planes and the crew ready to fly them, and we appeal for the chance to do so.  We will do all we can to help secure hotel rooms in coordination with OWWA and the other agencies,” Lee said.  

“The pandemic kept families away from each other, but as rates of vaccination increase in the country and lower cases are being reported, it opens up opportunities for loved ones to reunite. We should at least give our kababayans this chance,” said Joey Concepcion, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder.

The government had earlier imposed a quota of only 4,000 arriving passengers per day at the NAIA. The move was in response to fears of the spread of the Omicron variant and has led to forced cancellations of many inbound flights, and consequently prevented OFWs abroad from heading home this Christmas.

The government had earlier imposed a quota of only 4,000 arriving passengers per day at the NAIA. The move was in response to fears of the spread of the Omicron variant and has led to forced cancellations of many inbound flights, and consequently prevented OFWs abroad from heading home this Christmas.

The suggestion is in response to reports of a bottleneck resulting in a shortage of hotel rooms in Metro Manila meant specifically for returning OFWs. The shortage resulted in flight cancellations and affected OFWs who had already booked their flights.

Airlines are reported to be facing heavy fines should they exceed their individual quotas.
 

This was despite earlier efforts by health authorities, airlines, local hotels and the OWWA to anticipate the influx of inbound OFWs, including planned increases in international flights from Middle East and Asian countries and calibrated adjustments to quarantine requirements.


“We have established solid quarantine and testing protocols for arriving passengers that effectively screen out any community transmission of Omicron and other COVID variants from arriving travelers,” Concepcion said in a separate interview.

“We have the resources in place to guard against Omicron without afflicting our OFWs and other returning Filipinos, so we should have the confidence and foresight to increase our arrival quotas to enable our countrymen to fly home,” he added.

PAL’s One-Stop-Shop facility at the NAIA shows a testing positivity rate of only 0.54% as of December. The RT-PCR testing requirements before travel serve to identify positive cases, with these being isolated and resolved before release from quarantine.

Concepcion said that airlines can work with OWWA in sourcing more hotel rooms, saying that airlines like PAL can ensure that returning overseas Filipinos already have pre-arranged hotel reservations in Metro Manila, and they are offering to assist OWWA in finding hotel rooms for OFWs. The OWWA is in charge of finding OFW quarantine accommodations.

Moreover, other airlines would have their own arrangements with hotels that OWWA could tap. It is estimated that the OWWA will need to block 25,000 rooms during critical weeks for OFWs.

“Government can work with the airlines to increase the number of quarantine rooms so we can accommodate as many OFWs as possible,” Concepcion said.

“Government can work with the airlines to increase the number of quarantine rooms so we can accommodate as many OFWs as possible,” Concepcion said.

“We have built a wall of protection around the NAIA by vaccinating close to a hundred percent in the NCR,” he said.  “We must trust that we have done what we can to keep the spread of the virus in check, and let our OFWs come home.” — As released

Airline advisories: 3 tips for Filipinos before flights during pandemic

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MANILA, Philippines — In announcing a recorded uptick in flight bookings since the pandemic began, budget carrier AirAsia Philippines advised travelers to still follow safety protocols at this point of the pandemic.

After all, with the Omicron variant now threatening the country, stringent safety measures on ground and in flight should still be strictly implemented, the airlines said. These include physical distancing and the proper wearing of face masks. 

Remember safety protocols

  • AirAsia passengers, in particular, are requested to download the TRAZE mobile app for contact tracing. It allows them to scan QR codes before entering the airport.

  • For international guests, those without a valid COVID-19 RT-PCR test taken prior to departure will be denied entry.

  • Guests coming from abroad into Manila are required to register and complete the electronic Health Declaration Card or eHDC through the Bureau of Quarantine’s Platform, three days prior to departure.

  • They then must save the transaction number which will be sent through their registered email address.

  • On the day of departure, guests must update their OneHealthPass (OHP) registration with a seat number, health declaration, and other details. It is recommended that guests print the QR code sent to their emails. 

Be punctual

Guests are advised to arrive at the airport at least two to four hours before the scheduled flight departure to help avoid any unforeseen delays.

Remember that flight schedules occasionally change due to changes in travel protocols and other unforeseen circumstances. This is why AirAsia recommends that guests arrive at least two hours prior for domestic services and three to four hours before their departure time for international flights to accommodate for any potential delays, particularly during the peak period.

With the number of travelers surging by the day, being early minimizes the risk and hassle of getting caught up in traffic on the way to the airport, or within the airport vicinity as well as potentially long queues during pre-flight procedures. AirAsia reminds guests that the gate closes strictly 45 minutes prior to departure. 

Maximize contactless transactions 

  • Guests are encouraged to check-in early using the Airasia Super App or the airasia.com via the Manage My Booking feature.
     

  • Pre-departure check-in via these platforms may be done as early as 24 hours before the scheduled flight. 
     

  • The airline also partnered with digital payment giants, Gcash and Paymaya among others to provide contactless solutions during their journey.
     

Travelers told to be at airports early to avoid crowding, holiday rush

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MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Immigration on Wednesday urged departing passengers to arrive in airports early to avoid crowding amid the holiday rush and enforcement of additional health protocols due to the pandemic.

The bureau, in a statement, said local airlines suggested that travelers start their check-in process three to four hours before their scheduled flight.

Passengers are also told to ensure they have complete travel requirements and additional documents needed by the destination countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said that the bureau saw in the past few days a "steady increase" in the number of international travelers from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and airports in Mactan in Cebu, and Clark in Pampanga amid the coming holidays.

While this number is still lower compared to the Christmas seasons before the pandemic, "there could still be congestion for late passengers rushing during boarding time," Morente said.

"We can help avoid congestion during boarding by checking in early," he added.

Morente also pointed out airlines are conducting additional checks on passengers to ensure compliance with travel restrictions of different countries of destination.

The BI chief said Immigration Officers are also instructed to be more vigilant in screening passengers as human traffickers and illegal recruiters may take advantage of the holiday rush to get their victims out of the country.

The bureau has earlier banned its staff manning international airports from filing vacation leaders from December 1 to Jan. 15, 2022. BI also tapped immigration supervisors and officers assigned as administrative staff at the airport to be part of the on-call officers to augment staff rendering supervisory and primary inspection duty at the airports. — Kristine Joy Patag

Philippine airlines hit by double whammy of Omicron, Odette

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MANILA, Philippines — Local airlines have been hit by a double whammy just when they are expecting to take off with the expected surge in demand due to the peak holiday season.

Philippine carriers have ramped up their flights at the onset of the Christmas peak season to serve the high demand from overseas Filipinos who want to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.

However, the threat of the new Omicron variant emerged, and just very recently, Typhoon Odette devastated various areas in Visayas and Mindanao, resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) said it would be compelled to adjust schedules and cancel certain international flights in the next few days due to government-imposed restrictions on overseas arrivals at Manila airport, and the extended closure of typhoon-damaged Mactan Cebu airport.

PAL said concerns about Omicron have prompted the government to hold back from a planned increase in inbound flights and instead maintain a cap of 4,000 passenger arrivals per day to Manila for all airlines.

The airline’s share amounts to a little over a fourth of this total, or about 1,200 passengers per day, which it said is “insufficient” to cover its network of flights from at least 22 cities in the Middle East, North America, Asia and Australia.

PAL had appealed for a higher cap to accommodate the thousands of returning Filipinos and assured that all returning overseas Filipinos would have pre-arranged hotel bookings over and above the hotel blockings set for arriving OFWs by the Overseas Welfare Workers’ Administration (OWWA).

The flag carrier said it has no choice but to cancel certain flights to comply with the stricter limits on certain days.

It said an unplanned shortage in quarantine hotel rooms allotted for OFWs has limited the ability of OWWA to absorb arrivals from OFW-heavy countries.

“We seek the public’s understanding over this unfortunate situation.  We are a vital air bridge to bring families together, and we try to do all we can to fly our countrymen home, hence the flights we had arranged to serve their urgent travel needs,” PAL senior vice president and chief strategy and planning officer Dexter Lee said.

“However, we have to abide by the latest limits and we regret that this will prevent us from serving many travelers,” Lee said.

Lee said PAL maintains its appeal to allow more arrivals to address the need to bring home Filipinos at this special time of the year.

“We will do all we can to work with the government authorities, including assistance with quarantine hotel bookings, to achieve this.  Indeed, we are very grateful for the support that our government has extended in recent weeks, and we have made full use of alternate gateways in Subic, Davao, Cebu and Bohol to cater to the peak season arrivals,” he said.

Meanwhile, PAL said the closure of Cebu and Tagbilaran airports after Typhoon Odette has also limited its operational options, with flights from Los Angeles to Cebu last Dec. 16 and 17 cancelled as a result.

Budget carrier Cebu Pacific, for its part, said the flight cancellations due to the typhoon has affected over 25,000 passengers.

Cebu Pacific resumed domestic operations to and from Cebu on Dec. 19.

“However, given the conditions in Cebu, news from the ground is that power is intermittent, there’s water shortage, difficulty of passengers getting to the terminal, which also means difficulty of our own employees getting to the terminal. So we have had to reduce the number of flights to and from Cebu,” Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and customer experience Candice Iyog said.

“At least Cebu is already online. It’s just not yet stable so we need to get some stability for our schedule in Cebu and then build capacity from there,” Iyog said.

Philippines hailed world’s top dive destination anew at 2021 World Travel Awards

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MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Tourism on Thursday announced that the Philippines once again won The World’s Leading Dive Destination award at the World Travel Awards 2021.

This is the third consecutive year that the country bagged the award.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat welcomed this citation as a "great privilege."

“This distinction is indeed a great privilege, yet, it underlines our great responsibility of protecting and conserving our underwater resources so that these will also be enjoyed and experienced in their pristine natural state by future generations,” she said in a statement.

The Philippines, that boasts of having the best diving destinations with biologically diverse marine and aquatic resources, has beaten other dive destinations in the world in the 28th edition of WTA. These include Maldives, Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Azores Islands, Bora Bora in French Polynesia, Cayman Islands, Fiji, Galapagos Islands, and Mexico

Among the country’s top diving spots are the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan, Anilao in Batangas, Malapascua and Moalboal in Cebu, Balicasag, Panglao, and Anda in Bohol, and Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro.

In October this year, the DOT also announced that the country has been cited as Asia's leading beach destination and Asia’s leading dive destination at WTA.

PAL adds more flights to provinces for holidays

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MANILA, Philippines — Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) is increasing connectivity to key cities in the Visayas to accommodate travel demand this holiday season.

PAL said it is expanding its domestic services by increasing flights between Manila and Iloilo and between Manila and Bacolod starting today.

It will also operate four flights between Manila and Basco, Batanes this month.

“We will continue to build up our domestic network for the December peak season and beyond even as we introduce more international flights from different parts of the world to help Filipinos come home for the holidays,” PAL senior assistant vice president for sales Harry Inoferio said.

PAL will have 21 flights weekly between Manila and Iloilo, offering travelers a choice of three flights per day.

The airline will fly 16 times a week between Manila and Bacolod, an increase from the previous nine flights per week.

Last Dec. 5, PAL increased its services between Manila and General Santos City from six to seven flights weekly with the introduction of flights every Sunday.

The flag carrier currently operates twice daily flights between Manila and Tagbilaran and twice-weekly flights between Davao and Tagbilaran. It resumed one flight weekly between Iloilo and Cebu, Iloilo and Davao, and Iloilo and General Santos.

PAL encourages its passengers to check the website of the local government of their destination before flying, for updates on travel requirements.

“We are grateful that our national and local government authorities are opening up more travel opportunities following their success in bringing down COVID levels around the country,” PAL vice president for corporate communications Josen Perez de Tagle said.

Co-passengers of first 2 Omicron cases advised to monitor for symptoms

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MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health on Wednesday advised all passengers in the same flight as the first two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country to monitor for symptoms.

One of the cases is a returning Filipino who arrived from Japan on December 1 via Philippine Airlines flight number PR 0427.

The other case is a Nigerian who arrived from Nigeria on November 30 via Oman Air with flight number WY 843.

"At the first sign of COVID-19 symptoms, travelers should contact their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) in their respective LGUs or via DOH hotlines (02) 894-COVID or 1555 to get the assistance they need," the DOH said in an advisory.

The health department added that LGUs have been instructed to report and isolate any passenger from the two flights who has shown symptoms within 14 days after arrival.

'All international travelers tested negative'

With the detection of two imported Omicron variant cases in the Philippines, the DOH assured the public that all international travelers entering the country tested negative for COVID-19 before being released from quarantine.

The agency also highlighted the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, which has so far infected 2.8 million in the Philippines.

"DOH advises the public, especially the elderly and the immunocompromised to get their COVID-19 vaccine primary series as soon as possible, and booster once eligible," the agency said. — Patricia Lourdes Viray

LIVE updates: Severe Tropical Storm Odette

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Follow this page for updates on tropical cyclone Odette which entered the Philippine area of responsibility on 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (Can't view the moving thread? Click here).

'Odette' slightly intensifies as it nears typhoon category in strength

 

Severe tropical storm Odette slightly intensifies as it nears typhoon category in strength, PAGASA says.

As of 4 a.m., the center of Odette was found at 735 kilometers east of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

It has maximum sustained winds of 110 kilometers per hour near the center, gustiness of up to 135 kph, and central pressure of 980 hectoPascals.

Tropical cyclone wind signal no. 1 is hoisted over:

Visayas

  • Northern Samar

  • Eastern Samar

  • Samar

  • Biliran

  • Leyte

  • Southern Leyte

  • Bohol

  • northern and central portions of Cebu (Daanbantayan, Medellin, City of Bogo, San Remigio, Tabogon, Borbon, Sogod, Catmon, Carmen, Danao City, Compostela, Liloan, Tabuelan, Tuburan, Asturias, City of Carcar, Pinamungahan, San Fernando, Toledo City, City of Naga, Balamban, Minglanilla, Cebu City, City of Talisay, Consolacion, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, Cordova) including Bantayan and Camotes Islands

Mindanao

  • Dinagat Islands