This week, Puerto Princesa City officially opened its doors to domestic tourists, lifting travel restrictions that had been in place since the pandemic began and allowing entry to visitors subject to “tourism bubble” protocols.

The main deal here is that travelers, strictly Philippine residents only, are no longer required to undergo mandatory quarantine so long as they stick to a pre-arranged itinerary during their stay for a maximum period of four days and three nights. The vaccination requirements have also been eased so that families with unvaccinated children may travel together. A similar travel bubble policy is also already in place in other Palawan destinations including Coron and El Nido.

These new changes have come about as Palawan recently downgraded its quarantine status to Level 2 and cases of Covid-19 infections have registered a declining trend and the number of cases are now manageable.

It is evident that the current inroads in vaccination has been contributing to the declining trend in Covid-19 cases. The province overall is several notches away from its 70 percent of population inoculation target, with the capital already within reach of vaccinating half of its population. This, even as science has started to doubt its own notion of herd immunity in the face of a fast mutating virus and efficacy issues hobbling current vaccine brands.

The tourism bubble experiment are still considered baby steps towards the full recovery of Palawan’s major economic sector that had been hard hit by the pandemic. Its revenue potentials has yet to show promise that it can bail out an ailing industry overall, as small players continue to struggle for survival.

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Puerto Princesa City, being the main tourism hub of the province, will be an important showcase for a bolder and broader travel tourism policy that the industry needs. It must be able to manage its Covid-19 response well. The link between tourism recovery and vaccination is an established fact.

It will be foolhardy to assume that the currently reduced number of cases in the province is already an established trend, for as even more advanced societies have shown to be vulnerable to a debilitating surge. Puerto Princesa City has had two major surges, and both instances have bared inherent weaknesses in its medical response capacity. That needs to be immediately addressed.

There is therefore a case to made here that the Palawan capital, or better yet the entire province, must be a local and national priority for achieving near 100 percent vaccination and an ideal medical infrastructure facility to manage potential surges. Currently hovering at around 45 percent, Puerto Princesa City should only take a few more months to achieve an ideal inoculation goal, given an adequate supply of vaccines and an efficient information and vaccination drive.

Considering its continued reliance to donated vaccines, Palawan needs to either convince the national IATF to prioritize the province. The only other option is to purchase its own supplies with local funds.

A local policy agenda along these lines should be a welcome respite to the election fever that is sweeping the local landscape and taking away the focus of most everybody to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in dealing with the pandemic.

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