WELCOME TO MANILA. Passengers onboard a flight from Los Angeles International Airport arrive at the NAIA Terminal 2 on Thursday (Feb. 10, 2022). The Philippines reopened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign tourists and business travelers after two years of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Airlines)

Bureau of Immigration (BI) spokesperson Dana Sandoval said the number of inbound foreign tourists and business travelers is not expected to reach pre-pandemic figures in the first few months despite a significant increase in the international arrivals on Thursday.

“We believe that the first ones who will arrive are families, partners, and loved ones of Filipinos who have long waited for an opportunity to reunite and be together,” Sandoval said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency.

In a news release, the BI said the inbound international travelers has significantly increased from Wednesday’s 4,816 to almost 7,000 on Thursday — overseas Filipino workers included.

Sandoval said the BI’s manpower is in full force in time for the influx of inbound travelers as the country reopened its borders after almost two years of closure due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

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“Admittedly, a few weeks back we were having difficulties as many of our front-liners were struck with Covid-19. Thankfully, most have already recovered,” she said.

She said some 400 BI personnel have returned to work at the airport after battling with the virus.

BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said he hopes everything goes well as the country transition towards the “new normal”.

“We see this as the start of the recovery of the tourism industry which we hope will renew its vigor as in the previous years,” Morente said.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat went to the NAIA Terminal 3 on Thursday afternoon to conduct an ocular inspection.

In a public briefing, Romulo-Puyat said the reopening of borders will help the tourism sector and bring back jobs for those affected.

“Most of those working in the tourism sector are already inoculated (against Covid-19) because they really wanted tourism to reopen,” she said in Filipino.

The government allowed the entry of fully vaccinated foreigners from visa-free countries beginning Thursday.

Lady Marie Dela Torre, who migrated to Las Vegas in 2015, welcomed the government’s easing of restrictions for inbound travelers.

“I am excited to go home because I will no longer have to quarantine. This will enable me to save money and make the most of my three-month vacation,” Dela Torre told the PNA.

She said travel restrictions in 2021 prompted her to reset her first trip to the Philippines after seven years in April this year. (PNA)

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