The national government is bent on reopening the tourism industry as new COVID-19 cases continue to fall, the vaccination drive expands to children, and Filipinos stream into the tourist sites and businesses denied to them for two years by the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the weekend, the Department of Tourism announced that Boracay will be the first island destination in the Philippines to waive the RT-PCR COVID-19 test travel requirement, as the island is set to hit full vaccination status of all tourism workers and eligible residents by November 2021.
On Saturday, the DOT also unveiled a new promotional video welcoming back the public to the country’s top destinations.
The video “It’s More Fun With You,” is part of the DOT’s domestic tourism campaign called “Have A Safe Trip, Pinas,” was launched virtually at Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila.
The video is scored with Rivermaya’s 1997 hit song “Hinahanap-Hanap Kita,” referring to the public’s yearning to go back to normal. It shows a dog unable to contain its excitement as it welcomes a friend back to the beach after a long absence.
Meanwhile, with only 61 days until Christmas, health and law enforcement officials are reminding the public it isn't the time yet for large parties or trick-or-treating.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said in a video message Sunday that although they are aware of Filipinos’ penchant for celebrations, it is not yet time to be complacent.
Earlier, the Department of Health (DOH) noted that inviting people outside the immediate family bubble increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also noted potential superspreader events like the crush of over 4,000 visitors that descended on Manila Bay's dolomite beach early on Sunday, forcing city authorities to close the area for at least an hour.
Officials later declared that the beach would be closed to the public on Fridays.
Eleazar also warned establishments to follow protocols or face the possibility of closure.
The country logged 5,279 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing thetotal number of infections to 2,756,923.
Metro Manila is under Alert Level 3 until Oct. 31, with 30-percent indoor capacity allowed for those who are fully vaccinated and 50 percent outdoor capacity regardless of vaccination status.
The government said Alert Level 2, with a further relaxation of restrictions, is possible if COVID-19 infections continue to decrease.
However, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has reiterated the importance of the dolomite beach in the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program, noting how the beach enhancement project “can positively shape the mindset of the public on proper solid waste management.”
The DOT announced that in Boracay, the vaccination level hit 91.09 percent of all tourism workers and 62.78 percent of the eligible population of the island as of Sunday, Oct. 24.
Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said her optimism on the revival of tourism on the island was boosted by the commitment of Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores to accept visitors with proof of full vaccination, in lieu of a negative COVID-19 test result once the island reaches a 100-percent inoculation rate among its residents.
“Our vaccination rollouts are crucial in protecting our tourism workers as they face visitors every day. With 100 percent of tourism workers in Boracay inoculated, the DOT is confident that in the weeks to come, tourism arrivals on the island will further increase and more tourism establishments will be able to reopen to restore jobs,” Puyat said.
A total of 11,668 active tourism workers on the island have received complete doses of the anti-COVID shot. They are employed in hotels, resorts, restaurants, spa and wellness centers, souvenir shops, shopping centers, security services and others essential service providers, tourism transport, tourism-related cooperatives and associations, and government frontline service and private agencies.
A total of 15,350 or 62.78 percent of the island’s eligible population of 24,451 have been fully vaccinated, leaving some 9,000 residents left to be vaccinated. As of Oct. 18, 2021, there were no new active cases on the island.
Boracay Island is projected to vaccinate its entire eligible population of 24,451 within the month of October, which would make it the first destination in the Philippines to achieve 100 percent inoculation. The island was also the first tourist destination to receive vaccines against COVID-19 earlier this year.
The DOT was further encouraged as it noted a dramatic increase in tourist arrivals in the two months compared to the same period last year.
Since restrictions were eased with the lifting of Aklan’s modified expanded enhanced quarantine (MECQ) on Sept. 8, the Island recorded a total of 6,702 arrivals in September and 17,995 in the first three weeks of October. This represents an increase of 253 percent and 1,243.6 percent, respectively, from the same periods last year.
“More than the foregone revenue, the DOT is deeply concerned with the impact of the pandemic on the employment of the island’s workers who either have been laid off or are now working on irregular work schedules. We believe that with the 100 percent inoculation of theb island’s workers, the confidence of more Filipinos to travel will be restored, and that the island will be back on its feet sooner than anticipated,” said Puyat.
Western Visayas, which is comprised of the provinces of Aklan, Antique, Negros Occidental, Capiz, Guimaras and Iloilo, has recorded an inoculation rate of 63.26 percent among tourism workers as of Oct. 21, 2021.
“Your Philippine National Police is aware of the traditions and some of us may be encouraged by the continuous drop in COVID-19 cases in our country,” Eleazar said in Filipino.
“But we advise the public to postpone it first or make it limited to your own homes because instead of trick or treating (on Oct. 31), it may end up with a trip and treatment to the hospital when the children become infected, and they don't have any vaccine yet."
The independent OCTA Research Group said daily new cases of COVID-19 could drop to 3,000 in November and 2,000 to 1,000 by December because of the country's vaccination program.
"Because many people are protected, few contract the virus," Guido said in an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
Since the vaccination rollout on March 1, the Philippines has so far fully vaccinated 25.1 million people, while 29.3 million people have received their first dose.
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. earlier said 81 percent of Metro Manila's eligible population have been fully vaccinated.
The government intends to inoculate at least 77 million all over the country to achieve herd immunity as more transmissible variants emerge.
In June, Galvez said if 19 million to 25 million in the country are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, population protection against death and hospitalization will be achieved.
The DOH earlier this month confirmed that the decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases was “not artificial” but urged the public to remain vigilant—and to always follow health protocols.
There were 208 new fatalities recorded on Sunday, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 41,793, accounting for 1.52 percent of all cases.
The DOH also reported 7,312 recoveries, bringing total recoveries to 2,654,173, making up 96.3 percent of all cases.
There were 60,957 active cases, representing 2.2 percent of all cases.
Majority of the cases or 77.5 percent were mild, 9.20 percent were moderate, 6.1 percent were asymptomatic, 5.1 percent were severe, and 2.1 percent were critical.
Nationwide, 53 percent of ICU beds, 41 percent of isolation beds, 38 percent of ward beds and 37 percent of ventilators were in use.
In the National Capital Region, 46 percent of ICU beds, 35 percent of isolation beds, 34 percent of ward beds and 35 percent of ventilators were in use.
Also on Sunday, an infectious disease expert, Dr. Benjamin Co, said the sublineage of the Delta variant of COVID-19, although 10 percent more infectious, can be addressed by existing vaccines.
In an interview over CNN Philippines, Co said the mutation of the Delta variant would not affect people who were fully vaccinated.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie said that based on the biosurveillance conducted by the agency and the Philippine Genome
Center, the AY.4.2 sublineage of the Delta variant has yet to be detected in the country.
"While this is being investigated, we emphasize that regardless of the variant, all COVID-19 cases should be managed similarly and as per current protocols,” she said.
Vergeire also noted that current evidence also showed that the presence or absence of a variant of interest or concern does not change how COVID-19 cases are managed.
"We should always remain vigilant against COVID-19, more so now that we are safely reopening our economy,” she said.
In the Senate, Senator Christopher Go warned the public not to be complacent and not to waste the collective efforts and sacrifices of all Filipinos to defeat COVID-19.
“Let us not be complacent because the fight is not yet over,” he said.
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