The country’s largest tourism network has called on policymakers to come up with an inclusive system that allows travel for all, even as business leaders advocate vaccine passes that may spur discrimination.
Interviewed over the weekend, Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III told The STAR that as much as vaccine passes may restart travel in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, making it a travel policy would be discriminatory against people who have yet to be vaccinated.
Clemente said non-vaccinated individuals should be extended the same freedom to move around like their vaccinated counterparts for as long as they comply with minimum health standards.
“We need to find a way to make it non-discriminatory for people who might be unable to take the vaccine. Some are for medical reasons, some are for political beliefs, but whatever they may be, it should not go in a way that these people will be discriminated,” he said.
His suggestion is for government to speed up the pace of vaccinations in the country before it puts in place a requirement that demands immunity from the virus.
Based on Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, the Philippines has immunised only 3.29 million people, or 1.5 percent, of its population as of Saturday.
Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion is proposing the use of vaccine passes in Metro Manila to allow immunised people to go about their usual activities.
Through the use of such an ID, business establishments can scale up their capacity depending on the vaccinated rate in their area, and hotels and resorts no longer need to mandate guests to present a negative COVID result.
On the other hand, Clemente advised the Department of Tourism (DOT) to look into cautionary tales of tourist attractions that reopened to foreign travellers and then suffered a new wave of infections.
The TCP asked the DOT to consider the experiences of island destinations abroad suffering from disastrous waves of local outbreaks like in Palau and Taiwan, before pursuing its plan to set up a “green lane” for vaccinated foreigners.
In April, Palau put up a travel bubble that allowed the entry of visitors coming from Taiwan. Last week flag carrier China Air cancelled all of its flights bound for Palau until middle of June, as the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan rose to 224.
Worse, Palau’s tourism establishments had to spend for the upgrade of their health facilities and equipment, but the travel bubble facilitated the arrival of just about 300 travellers.
“For tourism to really take off, the dream is to vaccinate as many as possible. In principle, we, at TCP, are for the green lane. The factor that will determine whether we can push through with the green lane is the ratio of people vaccinated in our tourist destinations,” Clemente said.
At present, the National Task Force against COVID-19 focuses its vaccine distribution in Metro Manila and seven areas outside it, including Cebu and Davao.
Clemente said the use of vaccine passes and creation of a green lane can only do so much in reviving the tourism sector. He expects these policies to be put in place, and then revoked, in a back and forth due to uncertainties brought about by the spread of new variants.
“We are hoping that once we resume travel, it will be for good. As much as tourism contributes huge sums to the economy, its stakeholders are the most vulnerable when performing their duty of interacting with tourists,” the TCP chief said.
A small working group headed by the DOT and the Department of Foreign Affairs is assessing how to set up a green lane that vaccinated foreign nationals can use to enter the Philippines.
The World Health Organization opposes the plan to make vaccination a requirement in entering foreign borders, as it has yet to be proven that immunisation prevents the virus from spreading.
Last year inbound arrivals in the Philippines went down by more than 82 percent to 1.48 million, from 8.26 million in 2019.