MANILA, Feb 18 (Mabuhay) — The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Wednesday said it is aiming to open the country to foreign tourists within the year, especially those who have already been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said she hopes that foreign arrivals will be allowed after the government also allowed visiting overseas Filipinos or balikbayans this month.

“Hoping that this year, especially those vaccinated, we will be able to open up to other countries, and not only confined to balikbayans,” Puyat said during a press conference on Wednesday.

She added that they are also eyeing Metro Manila’s shift to the less strict modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) in March to allow freer travel to boost domestic tourism.

“We should really restart tourism because a lot of people lost their jobs. Mag-1 year na tayo [It’s almost 1 year already], we know what to do. Metro Manila is placed under GCQ, but MGCQ is freer and tourism can be opened to everybody,” Puyat said.

Disallow travelers with doubtful COVID test results

Following reports that some tourists had been faking their swab tests, Romulo called on local government units of famous tourist spots to refuse entry to travelers with doubtful COVID-19 test results.

“We remind the LGUs that if they are doubtful with the RT PCR, don’t let them enter. Hahanapin niyo pa, magtatago pa yan…nagging super spreader na siya (If you let them, they will hide and become super spreaders). It’s really important that the LGUs become more strict,” she said.

Several travelers to Boracay were found to have faked their RT-PCR test results and now face charges for violating quarantine protocols.

Puyat said the DOT is already trying to lower the cost of swab tests by partnering with government hospitals.

“There’s really no reason for you to fake, unless na positive ka at gusto mo lang pumasok sa Boracay (unless you are positive and really wanted to enter Boracay),” Puyat said.

“Please be a responsible traveler, especially with COVID. You should not only think of yourself, but also of others,” she added.

Valenzuela Rep. Wes Gatchalian recently filed a bill that will penalize those who fake RT-PCR tests with imprisonment of 6 to 12 years, and fines of up to P1 million.

Some of the tourist destinations that are already open to the public include Baguio, Bohol, Boracay, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and El Nido in Palawan. (MNS)

READ NEXT: 18 ‘unruly’ foreigners barred from entering Philippines last year — Immigration bureau