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Express lane for COVID-19 vaccines pressed

Joey Sarte Salceda
Joey Sarte Salceda

THE chairman of the House committee on ways and means has told the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to ensure that coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) vaccines and related supplies, such as syringes for use in the vaccination, are accorded ‘super green lane’ status in the customs clearance process.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, the panel chairman who has oversight of the BOC as tax chief of the House, has requested the BoC to prioritize the clearance of COVID-19 vaccines once they become available.

Salceda said this will encourage the private sector to bid for vaccines alongside the government.

“We need all the vaccines we can get, and if the private sector can boost our supplies, we should make it easier for them to do so,” Salceda, House economic stimulus and recover co-chair, said.

He said that the “super green lane” system is faster and more efficient, as it can allow for single-day clearance.

Established under Executive Order (EO) No. 230 in 2000, the “super green lane” is meant to ‘allow for the advance processing and clearance of the shipments of the country’s topmost qualified importers without the benefit of prior physical examination and documentary check on their shipments upon compliance with pertinent Customs laws, rules and regulations.’

Salceda said that rules specific to COVID-19 vaccines may be needed to extend the qualification to reputable importers of COVID-19 vaccines, while ensuring that safeguards are in place to avoid abuse of the system.

Earlier this week, Salceda also called for tax- and duty-free importation of COVID-19 vaccines to expedite their procurement and rollout.

“These vaccines cannot stay for long in our ports. That amplifies the risk that they will be damaged, as the COVID-19 vaccine is particularly sensitive to changes in temperature,” Salceda said.

“Of course, the rules have to be clear. That’s why I am asking the Finance Secretary, and Customs Commissioner Guerrero to issue guidelines that will clarify how COVID-19 vaccine imports by the private sector can be cleared faster,” Salceda said.

“They were quite effective in doing this during the April and May PPE shortage, so it can be done,” Salceda added.

In March, Salceda explained to the House leadership that the quarantine restrictions and the accompanying socioeconomic assistance must be calibrated as a “bridge to the vaccine.”

Now that the vaccine is ready, Salceda said, “no time must be wasted in getting them rolled out.”

Salceda estimated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) loss of P85 billion for every day that there is no mass vaccination rollout.

“The loss in economic activity due to the lack of mass vaccination is staggering. There should be no reason we cannot procure a wide range of COVID-19 vaccines, by both the public and private sectors. The government has the money, and the private sector also has some funds for it. Above all, there is a demand. The vaccines are actually cheaper than the tests, so even average citizens can afford to get vaccinated at their own expense,” Salceda added. “So, we should encourage private sector importation and rollout, so that people can make their choices.”