The Philippines welcomes foreign travelers back after 2 years

Foreign travelers from 157 countries with visa-free agreements with the Philippines who have been fully vaccinated and tested negative for the virus will be welcomed back and will no longer need to be quarantined upon arrival.

The government also ended a risk classification system that banned travelers from the hardest-hit countries.

“We will start the next chapter on the road to recovery,” said Tourism Minister Berna Romulo-Puyat. She added that reopening the border would restore jobs and generate revenue in tourism-related businesses and communities.

The Philippines imposed one of the world’s longest lockdowns and the toughest police-enforced quarantine restrictions to quell a pandemic that caused the worst economic recession since the 1940s and drove unemployment and hunger to record levels.

According to government statistics, more than a million Filipinos lost jobs in tourism companies and tourist destinations in the first year of the pandemic alone.

Tourism destinations, including popular beach and tropical island resorts, resembled ghost towns at the height of the pandemic lockdown, and a volcanic eruption and typhoons exacerbated losses.

The reopening was scheduled for December 1 but was postponed due to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Fewer than a thousand new cases were added each day over the Christmas holidays as large crowds of shoppers returned to malls and restaurants despite constant government warnings.

The subsequent surge peaked at over 39,000 infections in one day in mid-January, but has since tailed off.

Health officials on Wednesday reported about 3,600 infections with 69 deaths and have classified the entire archipelago as “low to moderate risk” with the exception of one southern region.

More than 60 million of nearly 110 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and 8.2 million have received their booster shots in a campaign hampered by vaccine shortages and public hesitation.

President Rodrigo Duterte warned Filipinos in televised addresses Monday that “we’re not over the hill yet” and urged the unvaccinated to get vaccinated soon.

“If you’re unvaccinated and you die, well, I’ll tell you, ‘good exemption,’” the stubborn president said. “You can walk around and if you get contaminated you will feel terribly, very, very sorry for yourself and your family.”

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