Stricter border controls against COVID-19 are useless if…

In the wake of the nearly 8,000 new COVID-19 cases recorded daily in the country, governors in the Bicol region have ordered stricter border controls targeting travelers from Metro Manila and all areas outside the region.

The new executive orders were issued a few days after the provincial chief executives had a Zoom meeting where the matter was discussed, with our very own Gov. Joseph Cua recommending such strict controls topped by one requiring travelers to present negative test results for coronavirus before being allowed entry.

Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara was the first to issue an EO, raising concerns on social media that the province has been locked down.

The order restricted entry into Albay only to essential vehicles, with all persons entering the province to present a negative RT-PCR, antigen or saliva test result secured at least three days prior to travel. It did not exclude travelers from Catanduanes either going to the mainland or just passing through Albay on their way to other Bicol provinces or beyond.

This prompted a clarification in a subsequent EO, with those coming from other provinces in the region open to enter Albay with only valid IDs and the ALBAY-GET Pass code as requirements.

Those from outside the region who are in transit through the province will not be required to submit a negative test result but if their final destination is Catanduanes, they would need to present the test results from DOH-accredited testing centers, Gov. Bichara stated.

For his part, Gov. Cua essentially required the same negative test result from inbound travelers from outside the Bicol region.

On the other hand, Authorized Persons Outside of Residence (APORs) from national government agencies and attached agencies must present their IDs, travel order and itinerary of travel at the border control.

A long queue has been forming on a daily basis at the Provincial Capitol lobby for the issuance of the Letter of Exemption (LOE) required for those traveling within the Bicol region so they would be exempt from the negative test result requirement upon reentry.

Last Monday, March 22, 2021, an amendment was submitted for the governor’s signature that would essentially render useless the LOE by requiring all travelers bound for Catanduanes to submit a negative COVID-19 test result, regardless of their origins. As of presstime Tuesday morning, the amended EO has yet to be signed.

Thus, if a Catandunganon is traveling to the mainland or Metro Manila by bus, private vehicle or a flight at Legazpi Airport, the passenger just needs the ALBAYGET-PASS to enter Bichara’s domain but on his or her return, he would need a negative result for either one of the three COVID-19 tests.

The extra time and effort in complying with the requirements is understandably vital if the Bicol region and the island province is to maintain low numbers of coronavirus cases, particularly those infected with the variants.

Now that the provincial government has made its move to secure its borders against the pandemic, Gov. Cua should convene the local IATF and the 11 mayors to discuss how to secure their respective towns against the spread of the coronavirus, especially in implementing minimum health protocols and in arresting violators.

It would be quite useless to bar COVID-19 positives from entering the island if the governor and the mayors would allow the virus to spread unchecked among their constituents by their failure to act.

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