A crowd of some 1,700 Bike Hero participants converged at the Acacia Tunnel in Barangay Inagawan Sub, Sunday (March 7) afternoon to join the celebration of Puerto Princesa’s annual Balayong Festival.

Did the Acacia Tunnel tree-lighting event of March 7 trigger the current COVID-19 surge in Puerto Princesa City?

The question was addressed at length by Dr. Dean Palanca, head of the Incident Management Team (IMT), in an exclusive interview Saturday (May 22) with Palawan News, amidst persistent questioning being raised by netizens in social media.

While many have kept on harping at the tree-lighting event as the origin of the current outbreak, Dr. Palaca admitted the event may have contributed to the surge, but blamed it primarily on the relaxation of quarantine protocols on arriving travelers.

The Acacia Tunnel event organized by the city government was attended by an estimated 1,700 bikers, including local residents who crowded the 1-km. highway attraction in Barangay Inagawan for the unveiling of its controversial tree lighting.

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“Coincidence lang. Ang puno’t dulo talaga nyan ay nagpauwi tayo ng mga galing sa Manila na hindi nag-quarantine and yet may COVID-19 sila,” Dr. Palanca told Palawan News.

He explained that the relaxed policy on arriving travelers was a decision made by the National IATF, which did away with the mandatory quarantine requirements for allowed persons outside residence or APORs.

After the event happened, Dr. Palanca said they were able to test many among those who participated and the results were negative.

“Marami kaming na-test d’yan pero mga negative. Ang Inagawan Acacia Tunnel ay maaaring naging isa ‘yan na possible [na nagparami ng kaso] pero marami ang positive sa antigen na kung saan na nakarating at after one week na namin sila na-detect,” he said.

He noted that after the lifting of the quarantine restrictions, there were more than 30 cases of individuals who did not undergo quarantine and had even negative during the RT-PCR testing, but who came out positive after they were tested in antigen.

“It’s more than 30 cases na negative ang kanilang RT PCR. Noong tinest namin sa Antigen and after seven days, nag-positive sila then sumunod na ang households nila na nag-positive,” he said.

“Isipin na lang natin ang first day nila up to seven days kung saan pumunta – nag-party, nag-beach at kung saan-saan pa. Pagkatapos ng March, ‘yon tumataas na ang antigen positive natin,” he added.

Dr. Palanca also defended his issuance of a letter approving the rescheduling of the event to March 7. The letter had been going around in social media posts.

“Pinirmahan ko talaga ‘yan kasi by that time noong February ay ‘yan na ang schedule ng activity sa Inagawan pero sumabay sa local case natin, may local transmission sa Barangay San Jose,” he said.

“Noong katapusan ng February, tapos na sila kaya sabi ko dagdagan ng one week, baka may lumabas ulit na kaso. Kaya ang naging schedule ay March 8 or 7,” he added.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.