IATF allows non-essential foreign travel for Filipinos starting October 21

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 16) — The government is lifting the ban on non-essential travel of Filipinos by Wednesday, October 21, subject to strict requirements.

Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases spokesman Harry Roque said Friday the body approved the removal of travel restrictions during its recent meeting.

Filipinos traveling abroad must present a confirmed round trip ticket as well as adequate travel and health insurance for tourist visa holders. They must also follow the existing rules for returning overseas Filipinos as they fly home, which involves undergoing quarantine in dedicated isolation facilities while waiting for a negative swab test result.

Those heading out should also sign an immigration declaration acknowledging the risks involved in traveling, as well as present a "negative antigen test result taken within 24 hours before departure," which Roque said is subject to Department of Health guidelines.

As of Thursday, national COVID-19 task force chief implementer Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the antigen test pilot study in Baguio City is still under evaluation before the system can be adopted widely.

Antigen tests yield results faster than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which often takes at least a day to process.

RELATED: One antigen test used in Baguio failed DOH standards, COVID-19 task force says

DOH rules as of October 6 allow the use of rapid antigen testing (AgT) as an alternative to PCR tests for suspected cases, including symptomatic and asymptomatic close contacts who fit the definition. The cheaper and faster tests may also be used for probable cases in a community or hospital setting with insufficient PCR testing capacity, places where a quick turnaround time is needed for patients, or during incidents of a community outbreak "for quicker case finding."

"Symptomatic close contacts who tested negative for AgT, as well as asymptomatic close contacts regardless of AgT result, shall undergo confirmatory RT-PCR test," the DOH memorandum read.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health on Friday said the government will no longer require all returning Filipinos to undergo COVID-19 testing prior to their trips and another round of testing and mandatory quarantine after their arrival to their destination.

Based on the department’s updated COVID-19 response guidelines, the returning residents coming from areas with high COVID-19 cases should present a negative RT-PCR test result from their point of origin.

When they arrive, they will be placed on quarantine in a government facility and scanned for symptoms. If they start showing symptoms, it is the only time they will undergo a swab test.

Returning residents from low and mid prevalence areas shall not be required to present a negative test result nor undergo quarantine and testing upon arrival to their localities.

All returning Filipinos were previously required to undergo mandatory quarantine and swab test.

More travel restrictions eased

​The government is also allowing travel agencies and tour operators to reopen even in Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine effective October 16. Operations are capped at 50% for GCQ areas but full capacity is allowed when the agency is based in provinces under modified GCQ, according to latest rules from the Trade department.

Also on Friday, the IATF lifted a standing ban for people traveling from a GCQ to an MGCQ area even if not for official or work purposes, effectively easing general restrictions on local and international movement among Filipinos.

RELATED: Persons aged 15-65 allowed to go out as IATF eases quarantine age restrictions

All activities must still observe minimum health standards, such as the wearing of face masks and face shields, social distancing, and proper handwashing.

The administration has moved away from its "stay home" campaign to ask Filipinos to head out to spend and shop – a last-ditch effort to breathe life into the economy amid a pandemic-induced recession.