Ilocos Sur, Norte relax travel restrictions

VIGAN CITY —The provinces of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte have furthered relaxed this month the travel requirements to enter both provinces. This is to conform with the recent order by the Department of Interior and Local Government mandating all local government units (LGUs) to follow uniform travel protocols nationwide.

With the relaxed requirements, local business owners in the tourism industry hope this will attract more visitors from the rest of the country and jump-start the local economy that has been battered by the pandemic. Although the Ilocos region provinces and Baguio City started welcoming domestic tourists by entering a “travel bubble” agreement in September last year, then eventually expanding to tourists from the rest of Luzon in November, few visitors came because of strict requirements.

Under the new guidelines, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests requirements are either reduced or no longer mandatory, and for returning residents or non-residents staying long term, quarantine is no longer mandatory.

In Ilocos Norte, Governor Matthew Marcos Manotoc has released last March 6 a set of new travel guidelines which took effect immediately.

Under the new guidelines, returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) are required to present a negative RT-PCR test issued within 60 hours of arrival at the provincial borders. Locally stranded individuals (LSIs) coming from high-risk areas are required to submit a negative RT-PCR test with swab collected within 60 hours or undergo a rapid antigen test at the border upon arrival. If the point of origin is in low-risk areas, LSIs are strongly encouraged, but not required to present either of the said two tests.

Meanwhile, residents going to ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ areas for less than 48 hours are not obliged to present a negative COVID-19 test. Same applies for residents traveling to or working in MGCQ areas. However, if residents traveling to said areas for over 48 hours, they are obliged to provide a negative RT-PCR test issued within 60 hours of arrival or an antigen test swab collected within 24 hours. 

The same guidelines apply to non-resident authorized persons outside of residence (APOR) and those on indispensable travel (IT). However, the time restriction is condensed to seven hours. If they come from high-risk areas, or from low-risk areas but plan to stay in the province beyond seven hours, they must present a negative RT-PCR test. 

“Basta may negative test, kahit sino, they will not be forced to quarantine. Instead, they will be strongly encouraged, especially our ROFs and those coming from high-risk areas, to minimize movement for one week,” Governor Manotoc urged, further stating that the provincial government will subsidize the testing costs of displaced and indigent ROFs and LSIs.

Ilocos Norte has also opened its borders to leisure travelers from all over the country. But a negative RT-PCR test result taken 72 hours prior to travel, or a negative antigen test result taken upon arrival at the border, is still required, according to the order issued by Manotoc.

Tourists must also register at ilocosnorte.ph, generate a SafePass QR Code and have a confirmed booking in accredited accommodations or travel agencies only before arrival.

Meanwhile in Ilocos Sur, Governor Ryan Luis Singson released on March 14 Executive Order No. 22 revising an earlier EO 20 updating the travel protocols in the province. Compared with the guidelines of Ilocos Norte, that of Ilocos Sur is even less restrictive.

In the latest EO, negative RT-PCR test is no longer required for all except for tourists coming from ECQ, MECQ and GCQ areas. However, other documentary requirements such as identification card, travel order and travel itinerary will still be required. All travelers must also register for an S-PaSS account at https://s-pass.ph/clients/registration_captcha.

Quarantine is also no longer required for Ilocos Sur travelers unless they exhibit symptoms upon arrival. For returning residents from high-risk areas with reported Coronavirus UK variants, the provincial government is leaving the decision for containment to the destination town. ●