Roque on Boracay opening: 'Panahon na para magbakasyon'

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Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque invites Filipinos to visit Boracay

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 5) — Malacañang has dropped its months-old "stay at home" campaign and is now calling on Filipinos to head out and fly to Boracay island.

"Ang mensahe po ng Presidente, kinakailangang mabuhay po tayo sa kabila ng COVID-19... Panahon na po para tayo ay magbakasyon matapos ng napakatagal na lockdown, lalong-lalo na sa Metro Manila," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday as he staged his regular press briefing from the white sand shores of the popular tourist spot.

[Translation: The President's message is that we need to live with COVID-19... It's time to take a vacation after the long lockdown, especially in Metro Manila.]

Boracay reopened its doors to all tourists on October 1 but subject to strict guidelines. Negative swab tests are required before visitors are allowed to enter the white sand paradise. This comes weeks after the island started accepting visitors from within the Western Visayas region only.

Roque and his team headed to Malay, Aklan over the weekend, joining a handful of tourists who braved the COVID-19 pandemic after seven months of community quarantine.

"Ang talagang messaging po natin ngayon doon sa advertisement na pinroduce ng Office of the Press Secretary at suportado po ng IATF, DOH, at Department of Finance: ingat-buhay para sa hanapbuhay... 'Yan din po ang thrust ng second National Action Plan ng national task force on COVID-19," the Malacañang official said, even shooting a promotional video featuring himself as he walked around Boracay to shop and eat while showing the safety protocols in place.

[Translation: Our real messaging now as seen in the advertisement produced by the Office of the Press Secretary and supported by the IATF, DOH, and Department of Finance: taking care of yourself while supporting other people's livelihoods... That's also the thrust of the second National Action Plan of the national task force on COVID-19.]

Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores said only about 50 tourists per day have entered the province since last Thursday, as local businesses hope to entice more to revive sales and jobs. He assured that strict health standards are being followed to maintain Boracay's COVID-free status.

READ: Boracay tourists to use separate airport from Aklan LSIs to avoid COVID-19 transmission

Tourists need a negative polymerase chain reaction test result taken within 48 hours of traveling to Boracay to be allowed entry.

Roque said that while Boracay may seem ready to accept foreign tourists, he doubts if they are willing to take the trip now as most countries require residents to undergo two-week quarantine upon returning home. Prior to the pandemic, Korean and Chinese tourists visited the island in droves.

Henry Chusuey, who owns the Henann Resorts chain in the island, said the hassle and cost of swab tests could be stopping travelers from taking a trip to Boracay. Miraflores said local hotels are offering up to 75 percent discount on room rates just to attract customers, with Chusuey revealing that only about 20 of his resort's more than 1,600 rooms are currently occupied.

"If it is easier for the tourists at hindi masyadong hassle ang requirements, more tourists, I believe, would come and more employment will be given to the workers," Chusuey said, adding that not all of their group's employees have returned to their posts as clients remain scarce.

The Boracay-based businessman also batted for antigen swab testing at the Caticlan airport, which is cheaper and yields faster results than the PCR method to detect COVID-19.

However, Roque said antigen tests are still being studied and the IATF has decided to wait for the findings of the pilot run in Baguio City before approving their widespread use.

"Hindi naman po kasi natin pupwedeng isakripisyo 'yung kalusugan din ng mga tiga-Boracay [We cannot also sacrifice the safety of Boracay residents]," Roque said, disclosing that doubts remain on the validity of a negative result from an antigen test and that the PCR test is still the "gold standard" for detecting the coronavirus from throat and nose swab samples.

READ: Traveling to Boracay? Here's what you need to know