It’s a welcome change, that Puerto Princesa City residents who are fully vaccinated can now travel without having to spend for those expensive antigens or RT-PCR tests.

The easing of travel restrictions was announced by the city incident management team (IMT) this week, as the national capital region (NCR) led the push to regain some normalcy in movement a month before Christmas. Fully vaccinated Puerto Princesa residents can now return from travel without going through a 2-week quarantine. Now, it has been reduced to seven days of monitored home isolation, with lab tests no longer required.

In the national capital, a seeming drop in the COVID-19 positivity rate has encouraged authorities to open the economy further, as more establishments are now given more leeway to operate. Even unvaccinated children have been allowed in malls, accompanied by vaccinated parents.

The new policies are mere baby steps towards border reopening, still way off from what local businesses are hoping and appealing for, which is a lifting of restrictions for vaccinated inbound tourists.

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City policymakers and health authorities have so far maintained a conservative and guarded stance towards the lifting of protocol restrictions, and for good reasons. Puerto’s vaccination rate, while gradually proceeding, is still way below the 70 percent target population to achieve that so-called herd immunity as prescribed by the World Health Organization. PPC vaccination rate stands at just over 30 percent, parallel to the national trend. The city is still even experiencing a surge and has been flagged for close monitoring by national authorities.

Current data establishes that even a drop in the actual number of COVID-19 cases does not make for a permanent victory over the virus. In just over two days after NCR brought down its lockdown status to Level 2, the positivity rate surged again beyond the global benchmark of 5 percent. As in the rest of the country, it is still far away from herd immunity.

Experience has also shown that effective management of the health crisis allows for an easing of restrictions. This is the point of the local tourism sector that has been asking the authorities to open up the borders for “bubble tourism” this coming December.

The city’s vaccination accomplishments, its capacity to manage emerging cases and prevent surges, its medical care capacity as a whole, and the aggressiveness of the virus are some of the key factors that come into play before major decisions on border reopening can be made.

The baby steps that the city government decided to take this week are bold and significant ones, considering that we are still in the midst of a local surge.

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