Boracay is open. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (and theresulting memes) made it official this week when he invited people to come visit the pristine island, his arms oustretched. Two weeks prior, he promoted the island’s faux version along Roxas Boulevard in Manila, and encouraged people to go for their mental health’s sake.
On both occasions, the government is keen on wanting you to travel. But with the coronavirus still infecting people by the hundreds daily and keeping the country under quarantine for six months and counting, should you go?
According to the country’s official vaccine-hunter, microbiologist and immunologist Nina Gloriani, you are free to do so, but consider the many risks.
“I understand that the decision to open up tourist areas is to perk up the economy, but a very stringent balance should be reached such that we do not further compromise the health of our people,” she said.
High-risk individuals with comorbidities such as hypertension and lung disease along with older people, should not travel at all. Children shouldn’t also risk going on tours, she said.
Anti-virus measures must be strictly enforced
Gloriani said tourist spots that are reopening must have little or no COVID cases or have managed to control the pandemic within their area.
Health and safety protocols must be strictly implemented. In Boracay, tourists are required to test negative for the virus, wear masks, observe at least one-meter physical distancing and wash their hands constantly.
She also said that contact tracing apps must be available and used in tracking the movement of tourists. Lastly, tourists themselves must be fully aware of the risks they are taking.
With these preventive measures laid out, Gloriani said that the country could be ready for leisure to continue on a small scale. The greatest challenge remains in its implementation, she said.
“Based on what we know today from news reports and what we observe outside, not everyone takes the precautions seriously,” she said. Even frontline workers, who Gloriani said should know better, have been seen to wear their face masks or face shields the wrong way.
Tourists must also be responsible
Last week, the Philippines overtook Pakistan and made it to the Top 20 list of countries with the most number of COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.
“The important question is, who will be held liable or responsible should the crisis worsen in those areas opened up? Or worse, tourists go back to their homes with COVID19 picked up while on travel, whether by land, sea, or air,” she said.
Data from the World Health Organization situation report also show that at the national level, the Philippines remains in Stage 2 localized community transmission “with some geographic areas showing higher transmission intensity and indications of wide-spread community transmission.” It noted increasing cases and higher transmission in Central and Southern Luzon, and a decreasing trend in the National Capital Region.
“This is not good at all. The figures show we are not yet out of the woods as they say, thus, we need to still take this threat seriously and not let our guards down, should we decide to go outside the confines of our homes and mingle with more of the general population who we have very little knowledge on their health status. Asymptomatic transmission is ever present,” Gloriani said.
Former coronavirus task force adviser said the same in a tweet, saying that the government is sending a mixed message when they ask people to stay at home and go on vacation at the same time. He said it's "counterintuitive".
Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat earlier said that the goal is to slowly reopen the country's popular destinations in a "safe and sure" manner.
According to Gloriani, Boracay's reopening is a choice that the government, the island's businesses, and the people going on tours have consciously made, so they must at least be afforded the benefit of the doubt.
"While amid this pandemic, we all have choices to make and be responsible for those choices. The assumption here is that those who make the choices, the decisions, understand the full consequences of their actions and will take all steps to make their decisions end positively for everyone."