Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Monday said the department is looking for other means on how to lower the cost of domestic travel, particularly the cost of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) testing which is required before going to specific tourist destinations like El Nido, Baguio, and Boracay.
“We are looking for ways to make travel more affordable. But as of now, we don’t want what happened to the rapid test kit that yielded many false negative results. We want to restart cautiously. We don’t want to be negligent and cause an outbreak and risk going back to zero again,” Romulo-Puyat said in an interview over radio station DZBB.
Puyat said they are awaiting the result of an ongoing rapid antigen pilot testing being conducted in Baguio City under the auspices of the local government unit and the Department of Health (DOH). The pilot, she added, is now about 50 percent on its way.
“We need 100 percent. We hope it’s successful so we can eventually use the antigen, which is cheaper for only about P500 and the result comes out faster,” the DOT secretary said.
Currently, travelers are required to present negative RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) test results before being allowed to visit major tourist destinations like Boracay, Baguio, and El Nido. An RT-PCR test can cost somewhere between P4,000 to P12,000 and is still considered by many as the “gold standard” in COVID-19 testing.
Romulo-Puyat added that they are also looking at the possibility of piloting the trial of the saliva test which is another cheaper and faster alternative in tracing the coronavirus.
“We have to be very careful when we restart. Since there’s no vaccine yet, there should be a test before travel,” the DOT chief said, even as she suggested that a price cap should be placed on the RT-PCR test to further bring down the cost.
She said that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic to tourists and the tourism industry in general, it is the mandate of the DOT to ensure that health and safety protocols are in place.
This, she said, was reflective in a survey that they recently commissioned where 96 percent of the respondents were looking at the importance of health and safety protocols in their travels.
The DOT welcomed the decision of the local government of El Nido to reopen the island to tourists beginning October 30, 2020, under a test-before-travel policy.
Romulo-Puyat said it is up to the respective local government units if they are confident enough to reopen their respective areas to tourists while the DOT provides them with the necessary apps and training on health and safety protocols for tourism workers like waiters and front desk people.
“The tourism industry’s reopening is gradually building momentum, especially after the news about the reopening of Boracay and the Ridge and Reef travel bubble between Baguio and the provinces of Region 1. Considering that Palawan’s El Nido has been consistently voted as the world’s best island, I would also like El Nido to be seen as part of the industry’s rebirth,” she said.