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Opinion

DOT: ‘It’s more fun with you’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Slowly but safely we are all getting back on track. For a month already, we are seeing better prospects that many of our people would soon all finally be allowed to get outside of their homes. And most importantly, all of us can even go on leisure and family trips out of Metro Manila with less hassles on government restrictions. That is when we finally achieve the so-called “herd immunity” or the “safe population” of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection by yearend.

Taking effect starting today, all Filipinos from Metro Manila and anywhere the Philippines who are fully vaccinated already against COVID-19 would be most welcome to go to Bohol, Governor Arthur Yap announced. Yap signed an executive order (EO) lifting the previous requirement of a “negative” COVID result using RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction), or swab test before being allowed to travel to their province.

Under Yap’s local EO ordinance, fully vaccinated travelers to Bohol would just present their vaccination card or certificate. Yap removed the RT-PCR result which many entities and other local government units (LGU) require as entry or travel pass. This is one travel cost less for budget travelers. Getting RT-PCR costs at least P3,000. For shorter waiting time for results to come out, one has to shell out more money.

Non-vaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals could still enter Bohol. But they need to present a valid RT-PCR negative COVID-19 test result which must be taken not more than 72 hours prior to their arrival.

Thanks to pro-active LGU chief executives like Yap who is running for re-election next year as Governor. He initiated this move after the Department of Health (DOH) downgraded the classification of Bohol to Alert Level-2 in terms of COVID-risk.

Under the new granular lockdowns now being implemented by the national government, the DOH determines the COVID-risk classifications from Alert Level 4 as the most severe down to Alert Level-1 as zero-risk. Currently, the entire Metro Manila has been downgraded to Alert Level-3.

In the past practice, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) review COVID-19 cases all over the country as basis for graduated community quarantine system and adoption of other pandemic response measures. No less than President Rodrigo Duterte passes upon these IATF recommended quarantine levels and other restriction measures.

The Philippines economy had its worst nightmare of negative growth last year in the aftermath of the lockdowns. Non-essential travels within and outside of our country grinded to full stop. Thus, the worst hit sectors are all those engaged in travel and tourism related industries. From the biggest establishments in aviation like airlines and other transport services to the micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) ranging from fine-dining restaurants to turo-turo (eateries), such multiplier impact of tourism dragged down the whole economy.

Our economy began to pick up a bit starting the first quarter this year while anti-COVID vaccines were finally delivered and gradually rolled out in Metro Manila and elsewhere. Then boom! An upsurge of the pandemic erupted with the more transmissible foreign variants from Alpha to Delta spiked into five-digit numbers our daily COVID-19 cases.

On recommendations of the IATF, President Duterte subsequently re-imposed the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) – euphemism for hard lockdowns. But we cannot survive any more ECQ to stop COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been telling all governments that COVID-19 is here to stay. Therefore, we must all learn how to live with it safely. The best way to do this is for all the governments to ensure vaccination of the general population while observing minimum safety protocols such as wearing face masks must continue.

Science and data on COVID-19 cases could no longer justify the socio-economic realities that we all suffer from these hard lockdowns.

Fortunately, we have pro-active LGU chief executives like Gov. Yap and a fully supportive IATF Cabinet member like Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat. Aside from Bohol, Romulo-Puyat disclosed, Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores would also remove the RT-PCR requirement and allow fully vaccinated people to travel to Boracay and to their other tourist destinations in the island. The Governor of Aklan reported to the DOT Secretary that 100 percent of tourism workers and residents of Boracay would be fully vaccinated by next month.

For us in Metro Manila, we need not go far for now. Tagaytay City is the closest we can travel by land. Traffic of people and vehicles are back in Tagaytay – the favorite weekend trip destination for many families in Metro Manila and nearby areas. Vaccination card is also the minimum requirement for dine-in, or even for weekend “staycation” in hotels that have COVID safety seals from DOT. Of course, more affordable accommodations within family budget like that we just had at Taal Vista Hotel over the weekend.

“So, all of them are now reopening,” the DOT Secretary cheerfully announced.

“With health and safety protocols in place, we can look forward to opening more tourism destinations in time for the holidays, and shift recovery into high gear,” she enthused.

The DOT unveiled on Saturday a new video designed to welcome more domestic travellers back to the country’s tourism destinations. The video dubbed “It’s More Fun with You” is DOT’s campaign to jumpstart domestic travels in the Philippines. It features a surfing dog named “Tuna” overly excited to welcome a friend back to the beach after a long absence.

“It’s more fun in the Philippines and it’ll even be more fun with you,” Romulo-Puyat waxed emotionally. For now, foreign tourists are still not allowed here. In the meantime, DOT’s local variant to the country’s “More Fun in the Philippines” ad campaign highlights the joys of travelling with loved ones here on our homeland.

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