Fear, excitement in paradise: COVID-19 casts shadow over Boracay opening

Stanley Buenafe Gajete

Posted at Oct 02 2020 04:16 PM

MANILA - Last March, business owner Alyssa Adapan closed her t-shirt store in Boracay as the coronavirus pandemic ignited lockdowns in the entire country. 

Seven months later, she decided to reopen the store after the government reopened the island paradise to tourists on October 1. 

"Kahit na kaunti lang ang turista, nagbukas pa rin kami...Inisip kasi namin medyo makakaahon din kahit papaano,"Adapan said. 

Before the pandemic, Adapan's shop earned as much as P20,000 (over US$400) a day. Now it earns nothing.

"Kung may dumating na turista dito mas maganda...Pero feeling namin hindi namin mababawi ito ngayong taon. Kasi kahit naka-lockdown nagbabayad pa rin kami ng renta dito,” she said.

Boracay, world famous for its powdery white sand beaches, suffered a massive hit after the coronavirus pandemic shut down local and foreign travel to the island. 

 

After enduring one of the world's longest lockdowns, the Philippines has slowly opened up several tourist destinations, including Boracay, to locals in a bid to revive domestic tourism.

Boracay resident Jonathan Cabrera viewed the island reopening on Thursday with a mix of hope and fear, saying locals need jobs to survive the pandemic.

"I can see the risks that we are taking. Even the tourists are afraid to travel. Pero ang ekonomiya bagsak na bagsak na," he said. 

"Sa mga unang araw na ito, medyo mag-oobserve pa 'yung mga travelers. Pero once 'yung confidence levels ng mga travelers um-okay na, hopefully makabangon na siya. Nagwo-worry, nagho-hope kami."

It's not the first time that the island has been opened to tourists. Last June 16, Boracay was reopened to tourists from Western Visayas including Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental but only a few came. 

It didn't help that a Bureau of Fire Protection staffer who tested positive for COVID-19 had visited the island for a "despedida" before the opening. 

Because of that earlier panic, officials have become stricter: every business must comply with health protocols before being given a certificate to operate. 

“I’m very happy that after many months, we were able to open Boracay for all tourists in the whole country. I’m expecting that many will come, but since this is the first day, there are still adjustments,” Malay, Aklan Mayor Frolibar Bautista said during Thursday's press briefing.

“Marami na kasing nawalan ng trabaho, and we need to find a way to restart tourism, to restart the economy but with health and safety protocols,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.

Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores said around 15,000 workers have been out of a job in Boracay due to the pandemic.

One of those who lost work due to the coronavirus shutdown is hair braider "Jenny."

Before the pandemic, Jenny used to earn up to P20,000 a week. Despite the reopening, she still cannot work as small businesses like tattooing, massage business, and hair braiding are not allowed to operate in Boracay due to physical distancing rules. 

"Para sa amin na naghahanapbuhay, useless din naman kasi bawal din naman 'yung trabaho namin. Makita lang kami sa daan, sinisita na agad kami,” she said.

"Kung ayaw lang din nila na pagtrabahuhin kami sa isla, wag na silang magpapasok dito... para fair." 


RULES IN PARADISE

COVID-19 has upended many of the island's old rules and installed a slew of new ones.

Visitors must have a negative result on a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test 48 to 72 hours before settling travel to the white sand beach. Travelers are advised to go on strict quarantine immediately after a test until the time of travel to the island. Masks must be worn at all times except when swimming; guests must also pre-register with the hotel of their choice. 

Some hotels and resorts have already offered discount rates of up to 75 percent during the reopening in order to attract more tourists in the coming days. 

Some tourists, however, have balked at the P4,000-P5,000 cost of RT-PCR considering that there is still an economic crisis.

"We know that this requirement for a PCR test is difficult for our tourists to comply with at this point in time. But this should be done because we’re just slowly opening up the tourism in Boracay,” Bautista said.
 
The local government initially expected 95 tourists during Thursday's reopening. By 4:30 p.m., only 35 people visited the beach including 10 from Aklan, 11 from Iloilo, 5 from Manila, and one from Roxas City, Capiz, according to Malay Municipal tourism office data. 

The tourism chief said the slow opening is a "glass half-full" situation since local businesses were also taking things slow. 

"Mabuti na paunti-unti muna para we can test the protocols. And I’m expecting na mas dadami ang tao sa Undas. Mahirap kasi pag biglang bagsakan tapos di naman prepared. Marami pang dapat i-improve, which is expected,” Puyat said.

At the end of the day, Adapan said she did not receive a single customer to her t-shirt store. 
 
"Wala pang kinita alas-8 na ng gabi. Nagbukas kami mga 9 a.m. So mula kanina hanggang ngayon, wala kaming customer. Wala kaming kita,” she added.