Tourism suffers P400B in losses due to COVID

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    THE lack of foreign tourist arrivals due to travel restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the country to lose some P400 billion in income last year, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said yesterday.

    Tourism OIC Undersecretary Roberto Alabado disclosed the estimated revenue loss during an online briefing with members of the House committee on Northern Luzon quadrangle.

    Alabado said that while around 8.3 million foreign tourists visited the Philippines in 2019, the number went down drastically by 82 percent in 2020, with only 1.3 million foreign tourist arrivals. The massive decline in foreign tourist arrivals affected 5.7 million jobs, he added.

    The government had to impose travel restrictions for long months last year to stop COVID-19 from spreading further in the country, especially during the period when hospitals were already bursting at the seams because of the number of infected patients.

    “This is a very big blow for us,” Alabado told congressmen. “We actually approximately lost around P400 billion in income because of the missing foreign tourists.”

    The DOT, Alabado said, will stick to its plan to focus on domestic tourism to revive the industry, noting that for 2019 alone, domestic tourism was a P3 trillion market.

    He said the department is now working to step up its marketing campaign and develop new products, ensure timely and efficient institutional support and effective strategic communication.

    Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat last year said the country is expected to lose P42 billion in tourism revenues from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan from February to April this year because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

    National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon had also said that the country may lose as much as P22.7 billion per month because of the COVID-2019 scare.

    F2F CLASSES

    Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will discuss proposals to ban face-to-face (F2F) campaigning in 2022 due to the continued threat of the pandemic.

    Galvez, the concurrent National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) chief implementer, acknowledged that the conduct of an F2F campaign would be very risky.

    “That will be discussed with the Comelec because we see that that is a big challenge and risk if we will have a face-to-face, crowd gathering. We foresee that the campaign will enhance close contact with different people,” Galvez said during the Laging Handa public briefing.

    He said Comelec has been coordinating with his office about its preparations for the 2022 national and local elections.

    Comelec on Tuesday said the probability of holding virtual campaign is high because the COVID-19 might not yet be over by the time the presidential election is held in the country in May 2022.

    Meanwhile, Mayor Isko Moreno yesterday granted the request of the University of Sto.Tomas to resume limited F2F classes for its medical and allied health programs.

    Moreno, along with Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan, yesterday met with UST officials led by UST Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Dr. Cheryl Peralta and UST Faculty of Medicine Dean Dr. Odette Maglinao to discuss the risks of holding physical classes and to agree on strict protocols that would be implemented.

    “Consider it approved. We will just follow the memoranda of the Commission on Higher Education,” Moreno told the UST officials during the meeting.

    However, Moreno reminded them that students who refused to participate in the limited face-to-face classes should not be forced to do so.

    A joint memorandum circular issued by the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Health requires higher education institutions (HEIs) vying to conduct limited face-to-face classes to consult with their respective local government units and update their plans on how to comply with health and safety protocols to curb the spread of the virus.

    The approval comes after Malacañang earlier allowed the conduct of limited face-to-face classes for medical and allied health programs in HEIs located in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified GCQs. Metro Manila is under GCQ.

    LOCKDOWNS AND VACCINATION

    Tightening or loosening community restriction levels cannot simply rely on the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, the DOH said yesterday.

    Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it would be erroneous to let COVID-19 vaccines dictate the quarantine levels in different parts of the country because the vaccines will not immediately be made available to the whole country as it will be coming in tranches.

    In addition, Vergeire said there are no evidence yet that the forthcoming vaccines versus COVID-19 can successfully block the transmission.

    Thirdly, she pointed how the COVID-19 vaccines will only be able to reach their full potential after the required number of doses.

    The health official said they believe that the current parameters used by the IATF remain as the best basis in determining the quarantine levels.

    “The most rational way to decide is to still rely on the number of cases and the healthcare utilization rate,” she said, adding: “The vaccination aspect will just be an add-on factor in our decision making.”

    In a related development, the DOT yesterday appealed to local travelers to stop forging and faking travel documents as it warned that violators would face fines and proper criminal charges from concerned LGUs, which may include the penalty of imprisonment.

    The DOT issued the statement in light of the recent case of six tourists who went to Boracay with fake RT-PCR test results, three (3) of whom have turned up to be positive for COVID-19.

    The DOT told the public that subsidized RT-PCR tests for Manila-based tourists are available through the University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and the Philippine Children’s Medical Hospital (PCMC), at P900 and P750, from the UP-PGH and PCMC, respectively.

    The DOT also urged its partners in the LGUs to tighten their assessment of applications made through their registration system. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Ashzel Hachero and Gerald Naval