Travails of travel

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Traveling in this pandemic isnt just expensive. Its stressful and totally challenging. Before leaving for Tokyo to cover the Olympics last July, I went through two RT-PCR tests 72 and 48 hours before departure. I also had to download the Traze Contact Tracing app on my cellphone and register with Philippine Airlines for a health declaration form to create a QR code that was required for check-in. Additionally, I availed of health insurance and tried to tap into the OCHA (Online Check-in and Health Report App) platform of the Japanese government for travelers entering the country.

For some reason, I couldnt download the OCHA app, a problem that also hounded several journalists, athletes, coaches and officials bound for Tokyo. As an alternative, I was advised to print out a written pledge to stay within the confines of my allowable space, report my health condition for 14 days, follow whatever instructions are to be given by health authorities, wear masks, wash hands and avoid close-contact settings.

Checking in at the PAL counter was no problem. My RT-PCR tests were reviewed with my health insurance and health declaration forms. There were other forms to fill up but it wasnt an issue. I was cleared within 20 minutes. Boarding the plane took some adjusting as passengers were required to wear both a face mask and face shield. It wasnt a long flight so the hours passed by quickly.

Then came the tedious process of clearing immigration upon landing in Tokyo. There were at least five desks to go through before moving forward. One desk was to check negative results, another the written pledge and so on. Hundreds of athletes and officials were in queues even if we all arrived on July 28, several days after the Olympics started. Nobody paid attention to social distancing so it was scary. Everyone was brought to a place where there were several cubicles to enter for saliva testing. I hadnt done it before so it took a while for my vial to fill the limit. It was about a 45-minute wait for the test result to come out. After that, I had to line up again to receive my laminated ID card before finally submitting my documents to the immigration officer. My luggage was by then offloaded from the carousel. I changed money to Japanese yen to pay for the taxi ride from the terminal to Conrad Hotel.

I did a three-day hotel quarantine before I could leave the Conrad premises. I was advised to go to the Main Press Center to pick up taxi vouchers (14 at $100 each) which I did. Since public transportation was not allowed for those in the Olympic semi-bubble, only registered taxis could be used. The vouchers came in handy because the taxi fare for the round trip from the hotel to the basketball arena in Saitama was about $500 and to the golf course was $600. Every round-trip to the Main Press Center was about $80 and you couldnt get change if you turn in a $100 voucher. I was also given vials for a saliva test every four days and required to text my temperature reading to our Chief Liaison Officer Atty. Billy Sumagui daily.

I experienced a glitch in my press accreditation which was cancelled a few days after arriving. I was stopped from entering the boxing venue because my ID had been cancelled. POC general manager Dinah Remolacio, a former SEA Games fencer, was quick to address the issue and had it sorted out. Magnum Membrere, Martin Gregorio and Jarryd Belo of POC were extremely helpful throughout the journey. Chef de mission Nonong Araneta and Dr. Randy Molo were always ready to assist in any way. In fact, Araneta based himself at the Olympic Village secretariat almost the entire trip, declining to attend events even if he had all-access. POC president Rep. Bambol Tolentino made sure things went smoothly from start to finish. PSC chairman Butch Ramirez provided full support for the Philippine delegation and his chief of staff/Sports Institute Training chairman Marc Velasco was in Tokyo for the entire duration.

Before leaving Tokyo, I did another RT-PCR saliva test and the Athletes Village Polyclinic issued a negative certificate to facilitate the exit process. Although I passed every test, it was nerve-wracking to wait for each result. During the Olympics, there were reports of a surge in positive cases in Tokyo and everyone was on high alert mode. It wasn’t easy moving around from one sporting venue to another because exposure to different people, some without masks, was inevitable. In all, I went to the venues for boxing, basketball, gymnastics, athletics and golf. More in tomorrow’s column.

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