Manila: The Philippines has temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists' entry in order to prevent the spread of a new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant 'Omicron' in the country, where most of the population still remains unvaccinated, reports NDTV.
The development comes as the Southeast Asian country on Monday commenced a three-day vaccination drive targeting nine million people as young as 12 in a bid to ramp up the roll-out of jabs.
So far, the country has not recorded any infections of the new strain, which was first reported in South Africa and has since spread around the world.
Lat week, Manila had announced plans to allow fully inoculated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1 as it looks to revive the country's struggling economy.
However, the Covid-19 task force of the government reversed course over the weekend as it announced the suspension of flights from seven European nations, following an earlier ban on arrivals from several African countries.
"The IATF deemed it necessary to suspend the entry of foreign tourists, given worldwide concerns over the Omicron variant," Jaime Morente, Bureau of Immigration commissioner said on Monday, using the acronym for the task force.
The announcement is a major setback for tourism operators across the island nation, which have been wrecked by a plunge in international tourism and curbs on domestic travel since borders closed in March 2020.
Tourism is a major wheel of the archipelago country's economy, accounting for nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, when more than eight million people visited, official data shows.
That dropped to 5.4 percent last year as tourist arrivals tumbled 82 percent to 1.48 million.
The government has eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent weeks as the daily infection rate remains at the lowest level since the beginning of the year and the country's vaccination rate increases.
But the emergence of Omicron variant has increased fears hence curbs could be reimposed.
Around one-third of the Philippines 110 million people are fully inoculated.
The country has registered more than 2.8 million cases since the onset of the pandemic, including over 48,000 deaths.
With Input from Agencies