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Boracay to waive RT-PCR testing for fully vaccinated visitors starting November

By Tanya Lara Published Oct 25, 2021 2:15 pm

Things may not be back to normal in the travel industry yet, but for fully vaccinated visitors to Boracay, it soon will feel like we’re heading there.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) announced on Oct. 25 that all tourism workers and residents of Boracay will soon be fully vaccinated, “which means that as early as November, fully vaccinated individuals may visit the world-renowned island without having to undergo COVID-19 testing.”

Boracay is regarded as the country’s tourism jewel, getting the lion’s share of domestic and international travelers among the country’s island destinations. In 2019, it received 2 million visitors; when the pandemic hit in 2020 and the island was closed from March to October, it received only 334,455.

The DOT made this projection as the island’s vaccination hit 91.09% of all tourism workers and 62.78% of the eligible population as of Sunday, Oct. 24.

The Philippines is by no means the only country in Southeast Asia whose tourism-reliant islands have suffered millions or billions of dollars in losses due to lockdown measures.

Indonesia’s Bali island alone—famous with Australians and other long-staying western visitors—welcomed 6.28 million tourists in 2019 and dropped to 1 million in 2020. Bali reopened on Oct. 14 with a shorter quarantine period (five days) for fully vaccinated international tourists.

In 2019, Thailand received 39.9 million visitors—with Bangkok being the top destination and almost 90% making a trip to Phuket. In 2020, with lockdowns imposed from March onwards, Thailand received 6.7 million visitors.

Reviving Boracay

When Manila locked down on Aug. 6, Boracay went into MECQ, banning dine-in and imposing a 4 p.m. closing time for all commercial establishments including restaurants, pharmacies and supermarkets.

Only a handful of restaurants in the usually busy D’Mall remained open for takeout, and only a few hotels remained open during that MECQ. Tourists, however, have been slowly coming back since Manila went into GCQ Alert Level 4 on Sept. 15.

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 RT-PCR test result—once the island reaches 100% vaccination rate of its residents.”

Boracay is projected to vaccinate its entire eligible population of 24,451 by the end of October, which would make it the first destination in the Philippines to achieve 100% inoculation. The island was also the first tourist destination to receive vaccines against COVID-19 earlier this year.

Puyat said this positive development comes as the DOT noted a dramatic increase in tourist arrivals in the past two months compared to the same period last year.

A total of 11,668 active tourism workers on the island have received complete doses of their COVID vaccine. The workers 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.

“Our vaccination rollouts are crucial in protecting our tourism workers as they face visitors every day. With 100% of tourism workers in Boracay inoculated, the DOT is confident that in the weeks to come, tourism arrivals will further increase and more tourism establishments will be able to reopen to restore jobs,” Puyat said.

A total of 15,350 or 62.78% 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, there were no new active cases on the island.

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% and 1,243.6%, 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 the 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

Western Visayas (Region 6), which is comprised of the provinces of Aklan, Antique, Negros Occidental, Capiz, Guimaras and Iloilo, has recorded an inoculation rate of 63.26% among tourism workers as of Oct. 21.

Other top destinations in the Philippines such as El Nido and Coron in Palawan, Bohol and Siargao have yet to announce plans to lift the RT-PCR testing requirement for fully vaccinated visitors. Visitors must present a negative test result as of this writing.