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The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Tuesday supported the pandemic task force’s decision to suspend the entry of foreign tourists to the Philippines, saying public health and safety remain a priority.

The Philippines originally planned to allow the entry of fully vaccinated foreigners to the country from December 1 to 15 but opted to halt it amid the growing threat of the heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant.

“The DOT understands the recent measures as necessary and prudent as there are still a lot of unknown about the new Omicron variant with regards to its transmissibility, its severity, and its global spread,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in a text message. “The DOT has always prioritized the public’s health and safety, and it shall continue to support national efforts that promote the protection of the country’s well-being.”

Romulo-Puyat said the suspension would be in effect until further notice.

Aside from halting inbound leisure travel, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) also temporarily suspended the testing and quarantine protocols for “green” list countries.

Except for countries classified as under “red” list, entry protocols for all qualified inbound foreign travelers would be based on the testing and quarantine protocols for “yellow” list, which is a three-day quarantine for the fully vaccinated even with a negative Covid-19 test result and five days for the unvaccinated, those with incomplete doses and/or without a negative Covid-19 test result.

The Omicron was first reported by South Africa on November 24, with the first known confirmed infection from a specimen collected on November 9.

Reports as of November 30 said around 16 countries and territories have detected the variant, namely, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom.

While it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta, the World Health Organization said the public must maintain a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; and avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces to prevent its spread. (PNA)