By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter 

The Philippines has relaxed international travel restrictions and suspended its COVID-19 country risk classifications, allowing the entry of fully vaccinated tourists from most countries starting next month. 

The government would scrap the green-yellow-red list system starting Feb 1, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told a televised news briefing on Friday. The system classifies countries and territories based on their virus risk levels. 

The presidential palace said fully-vaccinated people must present a negative RT-PCR test within 48 hours before departure from the country of origin starting Feb. 1. They would no longer have to undergo quarantine upon arrival. 

But they must self-monitor for coronavirus symptoms for seven days and report to the local government of destination if needed. 

Mr. Nograles said unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers whose vaccination status cannot be validated must present a negative RT-PCR test. 

They must also undergo quarantine at a government-approved facility until the release of their negative RT-PCR test taken on the fifth day. They must be home quarantined until the 14th day. 

The palace official said children below 12 years old who cannot be vaccinated should follow the quarantine protocol applied to the guardians traveling with them. 

Mr. Nograles also said the Philippines would now allow the entry of fully vaccinated nationals of non-visa countries starting Feb. 10. 

The government last month suspended a plan to welcome back foreign tourists amid a fresh surge in infections spurred by the highly mutated Omicron variant. 

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told the same briefing it “does not make sense anymore” to restrict international travel when the country has high transmission rates. 

She said safeguards are in place to contain the virus, adding that infections among returning migrant Filipinos remained low. 

The Philippines posted 18,638 coronavirus infections on Friday, bringing the total to 3.51 million. 

The death toll hit 53,801 after 68 more patients died, while recoveries rose by 13,106 to 3.23 million, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a bulletin.  

It said 34.6% of 62,671 samples on Jan. 26 tested positive for COVID-19, way above the 5% threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Of 231,658 active cases, 7,055 did not show symptoms, 219,811 were mild, 2,971 were moderate, 1,509 were severe and 312 were critical. 

Mr. Nograles said fully-vaccinated foreign travelers must have a passport valid for at least six months at the time of arrival and a return or outbound ticket to their country of origin or next country of destination. 

He said minors don’t have to be fully vaccinated or provide proof of immunization before boarding. 

Tourism accounted for about 13% of the Philippine economy in 2018, government data showed. In 2020, when the pandemic started hitting the country, its contribution fell to 5.4%.