Tourism bubbles, staycations and reduced physical distancing —the "New Normal" in the next few days will soon no longer be just another buzzword as the Philippines is gradually adapting to these changes with relaxed quarantine protocols and revived tourist destinations.

/ 17 September 2020

We are now exactly six months into quarantine, and although the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is still pretty much uncontrolled across the Philippines, the government is putting in the extra precautions needed in an attempt to “balance” economic stimuli and the state of public health. Starting this September, several efforts to boost tourism and the local economy are slowly being implemented across different parts of the country, with some provinces opening up again and industries returning to almost-normal operations.

For instance, Baguio and Region 1 are preparing to implement a “tourism bubble” with a dry run on September 21. This allows travel between low risk areas up North to revive the normal flow of income across the region, specifically Baguio, La Union, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte (BLUPISIN). The local government units, and the Department of Tourism, are working closely together with travel agencies to coordinate this travel plan, requiring tourists to have their visits supervised by accredited agencies and tour operators before entering the region.

Boracay has also opened its doors to Western Visayas residents of all ages, and is looking at fully opening the island to foreign tourists come October. Strict testing has been implemented in its borders, as local officials will only allow tourists with negative results in the province to maintain its low number of cases. The DOT has also been consistently speaking with other local government units and foreign partners to strategize the slow but steady reopening of other tourism areas across the Philippine islands, without sacrificing the health and well-being of Filipinos.

The DOT has also issued an official statement announcing that “staycations” are now allowed in areas under General Community Quarantine (GCQ), with the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat stated that the department will soon release complete guidelines on the rules and safety protocols for all DOT-Accredited accommodation establishments regarding the number of guests allowed in one room, and the use of other recreational areas such as gyms, swimming pools, and hotel restaurants.

Moreover, The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is set to reduce physical distancing in public transport that started in September 14. As the country slowly reopens, and more employees are expected to return to their offices, officials are allowing an adjustment on the one-meter physical distancing protocol to increase capacity in trains, buses, and jeepneys. With the strict implementation of face shields and face masks, the DOTr believes that easing up distancing will answer the frustration of Filipino commuters without putting their health on the line.

Despite quarantine protocols loosening up, Filipinos are still highly encouraged to travel ONLY for essential reasons, and to remain responsible and vigilant when going outdoors and engaging with peers. As of September 13, Sunday, the Department of Health (DOH) has reported a total of 49,277 active COVID-19 cases in the country, with 3,372 new cases just on that day. With this, we can see that the virus is still highly contagious, and can only be contained by observing strict social distancing protocols, and staying home as much as possible.