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The grave danger in reopening tourism

Economic benefits of reopening the tourism industry are outweighed by the risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19.

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The international scientific community wants to get many people vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to attain herd immunity everywhere. It also wants to prevent the spread of the virus among those who are not yet vaccinated.

Ultimately, the objective is to deny the coronavirus a human host within whom to multiply and even mutate to a more threatening type. When there are no human hosts available for the virus, it will be unable to stay alive on its own.

In other words, less people outdoors and more people getting vaccinated will spell the end of Covid-19.

That strategy, however, threatens the national economy. People who are restricted indoors cannot work, and so salaries and wages cannot be earned and paid. Businesses cannot operate to full capacity, and so there is less money circulating to keep the economy functioning. Government has to spend public funds for social amelioration. If the economy reaches a standstill, the country’s problem will certainly worsen.

To address the problem, health experts in the government decided to balance both interests, depending on the public health and safety situation.

Under the very strict lockdown identified with the enhanced community quarantine first imposed early last year and, after some relaxation, just last month, only vital establishments and industries were allowed to operate. Staying at home was the rule; being allowed outdoors was the rare exception. Travel anywhere required strict compliance with quarantine protocols.

Tourism was out of the question because it puts travelers at risk just by their being outdoors, which is an almost sure way to contract and spread the deadly virus.

The modified version of the quarantine allowed the reopening of other industries, subject to compliance with quarantine restrictions. That move, the government said, was necessary to jumpstart the economy from the lull created by the pandemic.

Upon the further easing of the quarantine, restaurants, stores and shopping malls were allowed to reopen at limited capacity, but subject to the usual quarantine protocols.

A move to reopen cinemas was initiated during the initial ease-up but level-minded city mayors succeeded in opposing it. The confined space in a movie house made it a health risk. Besides, one can easily watch movies at home through online service providers.

Early in 2021, there was a surge in Covid-19 cases, particularly in the National Capital Region and adjacent provinces. Experts traced the surge to the complacency of many Filipinos when the quarantine situation sort of eased up in the months prior to the yuletide season. There were too many people outdoors, and there were too many gatherings everywhere.

For some weeks, the NCR and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal (the NCR Plus bubble) were back under the very restrictive enhanced community quarantine. Due to pressure from local government units, and in consideration of the noticeable drop in new Covid-19 cases tallied daily, the strict quarantine in the NCR Plus bubble was eased up.

Now, there is a strong lobby to allow the tourism industry to reoperate. The proponents of this measure argue that the industry needs to reopen because many industry stakeholders have been severely affected by the stoppage of tourism in the country.

With due respect to our countrymen in the tourism industry, reopening the industry may be a bad idea at the moment. Tourism means more travel, which translates to more people being exposed to other people. That is a recipe for a new surge in Covid-19 cases, and our health care system simply cannot afford another surge.

A few recent examples should prove it’s still very dangerous to be outdoors.

Several contestants to this year’s Miss Universe contracted Covid-19 after interacting with other contestants during the pre-pageant activities. That’s too high a price for a vanity activity like a beauty pageant.

A ship that went to India, China and Malaysia arrived in the Philippines with a crew afflicted with an Indian variant of Covid-19. There is a chance that this variant may spread in the Philippines.

The economic benefits of reopening the tourism industry are outweighed by the risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19. Public safety, therefore, demands that reopening the tourism industry will have to wait in the meantime.

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