Tour operators, resort owners' help sought in monitoring possible COVID-19 cases in Palawan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — Health authorities in Palawan are seeking the help of the tourism industry in monitoring possible COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Dean Palanca, incident commander for Puerto Princesa City Covid-19 Response Team is asking tourist guides as well as hotel and resort owners to have their own surveillance system. This includes monitoring of visitors with Covid-19 symptoms and testing them when needed.

Palanca said this is valuable in preventing transmission, especially now that a negative antigen or RT-PCR test result is no longer required at the border.

"Ang kanilang tourist guides dapat every day i-check ang kanilang bisita, kung may symptoms i-test natin. Libre lang naman pag tinest natin sa ating laboratories dito. Sabi nga natin, tulungan. Di natin nakikita lahat ng tourists, di lahat tinetest for antigen, RT-PCR bago pumasok dito dahil level 1 tayo," Palanca told CNN Philippines in a phone call Wednesday.

[Translation: Their tourist guides should check guests every day, we should test if there are symptoms. Anyway, it's free if we have them tested in laboratories here. We should help. We don't see the tourists, not everyone is tested for antigen, RT-PCR before they arrive because we are under level 1.]

Puerto Princesa City has only 25 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, including a group of 15 people who went to Tubbataha Reef. Palanca said most of their COVID-19 cases involved tourists.

The Puerto Princesa City incident management team for COVID-19 response is training nurses based in resorts to do antigen tests. Palanca said this would enable them to manage infected visitors and workers early on.

"Para di magtagal, ma-diagnose agad kung sakali. Ma-equip namin ibang malalaking tourist destinations na may kakayanan magtest, kahit antigen test man lang, kasi napakalaki ng Puerto Princesa, malalayo minsan ang mga resort area dito, so importante maaga pa lang ma-handle na," Palanca said.

[Translation: So it would not take long and they would be diagnosed immediately. We could equip other big tourist destinations who have the capacity to test, even if these are antigen tests, because Puerto Pprincesa is a big place, resort areas can be far, so it is important to handle it early.]

On infected foreign tourists

Palanca's team is backtracking the itinerary of the group of foreign nationals who tested positive for COVID-19 recently, especially the first two persons who showed symptoms.

Fourteen foreigners and a local crew from Tubbataha Diveboat tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

Palanca cited the possibility they were already infected before arriving in the province.

"Mabuti na lang ito mayroon silang antigen test, so tinest nila yun. What if in other areas na may ubo, sipon-sipon ay 'di natetest 'yun ang mahirap? Madadali talaga tayo," Palanca said.

[Translation: It's a good thing they had antigen tests. But what if in other areas there are those who have a cough and cold and they don't get tested? We would suffer.]

Based on their record, the group arrived in Puerto Princesa City on April 23. Two days later, two of them had fever. Another one also had Covid-19 symptoms on the following day. An antigen test showed them positive for COVID-19.

Health authorities were informed of their condition on April 28. All 43 passengers and crew of the yacht in Tubbataha were tested. The 15 indivdiuals who tested positive were immediately isolated in a hotel.

Six of them had mild COVID-19 symptoms.

As of Wednesday, May 4, three finished their isolation. The remaining 12 are expected to be out on Thursday and Friday.

But local health authorities are still unsure which variant caused their infection. Their swab samples will be sent to the Philippine Genome Center on Thursday for genome sequencing.