WITH the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) issuing guidelines putting the National Capital Region + bubble that consists of Metro Manila, and its four adjacent provinces – Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal – on lockdown, Baguio has adjusted its guidelines keeping out residents from said areas.
Under the current guidelines, residents from the bubble are only allowed entry into Baguio provided that they are here for essential, work-related reasons.
All other travel is currently disallowed until April 4.
The city recently returned to requiring negative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or antigen tests before entry to the city.
Test results are valid for only three days or 72 hours for non-Baguio residents, while Baguio residents can use test results from the past 30 days from the point of entry or exit.
Tourists who do not have test results can avail of antigen tests at the triage for P350 for residents and P500 for tourists, depending on test kit availability.
The same restrictions apply to NCR travelers, provided they are able to show documents as proof of their need to be in the city for essential purposes and valid identification cards.
Pre-registered tourists under the Baguio Visitor Information and Travel Assistance (VISITA) who registered prior to the NCR+ bubble lockdown have been turned away and sent back to their home provinces.
The national Inter-agency Task Force for the management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has issued a ban on non-essential travels from the NCR Plus Bubble following the recent surge in the number of COVID-19 cases..
Subsequently, the city has also decided to limit the number of tourist arrivals to 3,000 daily and has re-imposed the requirement for visitors and frequent travelers to present their negative swab or antigen test results prior to entering Baguio as part of the ongoing measures to contain the surge of COVID cases.
This is to avoid the local health care system from being compromised and frontliners from being overwhelmed and stressed.
While it is true that temporarily suspending the arrival of tourists from the NCR Plus Bubble will have a negative impact on the projected number of tourist arrivals in Baguio, the mayor pointed out that it is still one of the options available to help control the surge in COVID cases, given that the city’s critical care utilization rate is now at a warning stage.
Last week, there was an instance when Baguio’s tourist arrivals drastically increased to over 6,000 in a single day that caused congestion at the city’s central triage; thus prompting the re-imposition of limiting the number of tourist arrivals daily to avoid similar problems in the future.
On October 1, 2020, the city started accepting tourists from the Ilocos Region under the Ridge to Reef Tourism Bubble before expanding the same to tourists from the entire Luzon on October 22, 2020.
The city then started to gradually increase the number of visitors allowed to visit the city daily until it reached as high as over 6,000 in a single day last week.
As a result, the city’s hopes for a rebound in its tourism industry were dashed as tourist arrivals dipped anew due to tightened entry protocols, particularly the return of the testing requirement and the ban on visitors from the National Capital Region and nearby provinces or the NCR+ bubble.
City Tourism Operations Officer Aloysius Mapalo said tourist arrivals plummeted after the city reimposed testing as an entry requirement last March 19.
“When we brought back the test requirement, many who were registered did not come anymore. Last Saturday, 1,149 out of 5,240 or twenty-two percent of those who registered arrived. Almost 80 percent ang hindi dumating (did not come),” he said.
“Comparing it to the previous Saturday when there were no test requirements, 2,932 out of 6,420 or forty -six percent of those who registered arrived,” he added.
He said they expect a further downtrend this Holy Week with the imposition of entry restrictions on tourists from the NCR plus areas who comprise fifty percent of the registrants.
“It’s expected that all registrants from NCR and parts of Regions 3 and 4A or around fifty percent of the total registrants will not come. Then, remove the percentage of non-arrivals as seen from past data which is forty-six percent,” he said.
“Take for example that starting March 26 to Holy Week, including Easter (April 4), the total number of registrants is 12,437. Remove fifty percent of that, we have 6,219. If only forty-six percent will arrive from what’s left, we can expect only 2,861 for the next 10 days. That is still a conservative estimate which means it can still be less,” Mapalo said.
After Holy Week, things might be rosier for the city and cheaper for the tourists who have to take their entry exams.
About 12,000 visitors are expected to benefit from the subsidized antigen test that will be rolled out by the local government on April 5 to help in gradually, safely, surely, and responsibly opening the local tourism industry.
By April 5, tourists will be charged P350 for their antigen test – on a first come first serve basis and until the budget lasts – because of the subsidy that the local government got from the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) to entice visitors despite the re-imposition of the stricter border controls requiring people entering the Baguio to present their negative COVID-19 test results.
The local government was able to get a subsidy amounting to P1.8 million from the TPB courtesy of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat for the aggressive marketing and promotion of the local tourism industry that was heavily impacted by the prevailing pandemic.
Mapalo pointed out that the subsidy will be applied to visitors who opt to have their antigen test be conducted in the city’s central triage prior to their entry to the city after having registered in the city’s online registration platform www.visita.baguio.gov.ph, following the submission of the required documents and the issuance of their QR-coded tourist pass.
According to him, the subsidy will be implemented for as long as the funds are available or until such time that the projected number of recipients shall have been reached based on the data from the VISITA online registration platform.
Mapalo said that the local government has started disseminating to the public the offered subsidy to visitors wanting to visit the city by next month and who are willing to have their antigen test be taken in the central triage prior to their entry to the city.
Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong expressed his gratitude to Secretary Puyat for providing the funds that will be used for the aggressive promotion and marketing of the local tourism industry.
He asserted the importance of having to strike a balance between health and economy so that the employment and sources of livelihood of the residents will not be significantly impacted by the prevailing implementation of the basic health and safety protocols since what should be prioritized is the safety and health of the people. – With Reports from Aileen Refuerzo and Dexter See