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MANILA: The Philippines will start accepting fully vaccinated travelers from Feb. 10, the government announced on Friday, after closing its borders for nearly two years to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Southeast Asian country had planned to reopen in December, but the decision was halted due to concerns over an outbreak of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles told reporters the government will suspend its risk classification list for countries starting Feb. 1, and vaccinated travelers from all 157 countries that have visa-free entry to the Philippines will be allowed entry.

“By Feb. 10, we will allow entry of fully vaccinated foreign nationals for business and tourism purposes as long as they come from countries belonging to the list as provided under Executive Order 408 or non-visa required countries,” Nograles said.

The government is also lifting its mandatory quarantine requirements for both returning Filipinos and foreign visitors as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19.

Officials are hopeful that the reopening will help boost the recovery of the Philippine tourism industry and economy. “[This] will contribute significantly to job restoration, primarily in tourism-dependent communities and in the reopening of businesses that have earlier shut down during the pandemic,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.

The Philippines follows in the footsteps of other countries in the region. Thailand will also resume its quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors in February, while Singapore and Malaysia have relaxed the border between their countries since November.

“We are confident that we will be able to keep pace with our ASEAN neighbors who have already made similar strides to reopen to foreign tourists,” Puyat added.

Home to white sand beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, diverse cultural heritage and wildlife, the Philippine economy is dependent on tourism, which in 2019, generated 2.51 trillion pesos (about $50 billion), contributing nearly 13 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, according to Philippine Statistics Authority data.

As the pandemic hit the country in March 2020, most tourism destinations were forced to shut down, dealing a major blow to the sector as its revenues plummeted to 973 billion pesos, with foreign tourist arrivals slumping 82 percent and local travel almost 78 percent.