Fourteen foreign tourists and a local crew of a diving yacht from Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) in Cagayancillo town tested positive Friday for COVID-19 following RT PCR testing done by the city molecular lab.

Puerto Princesa Incident Management Team (IMT) commander Dr. Dean Palanca told Palawan News on Saturday that most of the 14 were from the U.S. They arrived on April 23 at the city international airport and went straight to their dive boat.

He said all of them are “fully vaccinated” since this is a strict requirement by the dive boat operator.

“As far as I know, dumating yan sila ng Saturday, sa airline sila, and then diretso sila sa yacht noong araw din na yon, and then they sailed for Tubbataha that Saturday din. Ang alam ko Monday (April 25), may nagkaroon ng symptoms — hindi maganda yong pakiramdam, meron silang antigen test kit doon, tinest nila — dalawa yon — nag-positive ang dalawa. Alarmed yong yacht, and then the next day (Tuesday, April 26), may nag-positive nanaman,” Dr. Palanca said.

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“By Wednesday, they decided na balik na talaga ng… dito sa Puerto. Since wala talagang ibang pupuntahan pagbalik nila, humingi sila ng tulong dito sa atin kung ano ang gagawin. Hindi naman pupuwedeng hindi natin matulungan,” he said.

He said the yacht’s pilot decided not to continue their activities in Tubbataha and instead sailed back to shore, arriving in Puerto Princesa on April 28.

On Friday (April 29), specimen samples were collected from all 43 dive boat guests and crew members and delivered to the molecular lab. The results for 15 returned positive late afternoon of the same day.

“Lahat sila naka-quarantine na sa Skylight, yong others na nag-negative ay nag-flew back na pabalik sa Manila. Yong others naman na naiwan dito, kasi mga crew sila, ay bumalik na ng boat nila,” Dr. Palanca added.

Although they were allowed to return to their boat, he stated that they would still be monitored in case any symptoms appeared on anyone.

13 samples qualify for genome sequencing
Dr. Palanca noted that 13 of the 15 positive results qualified for genome sequencing, which they hope the Philippine Genome Center will accept (PGC). He explained that the goal is to figure out which coronavirus variant the new positive cases exhibit.

Dr. Palanca, however, said that submitting samples for genome sequencing is difficult because the PGC requires a request before accepting them.

“May order na kami agad, in-order ko na for genome sequencing yan. I think out of 15, 12 or 13 ang pasado sa requirements ng genome sequencing. Ipapadala na natin yan by next week. Once na nag-go signal na yong Philippine Genome Center na ipadala na,” he said.

“Pero 12 or 13 of them pasok sa criteria ng puwedeng i-genome for variants kasi di natin alam kung anong variant. Kung variant ba ni Omicron or other variants. Sana tanggapin nila para malaman natin,” he added.

COVID-19 surveillance must be strengthened
Dr. Palanca said that the COVID-19 monitoring protocol in place at the airport needs to be reinforced in collaboration with the City Tourism Office (CTO), other line agencies, and concerned stakeholders to prevent another possible spread of the virus.

He said that if a tourist tests positive for the coronavirus disease, he is placed in confinement until he recovers. This practice must be thoroughly communicated to them as soon as they arrive at the airport.

“Symptom checking lang, yan lang ang ginagawa natin. Kaya nga sabi ko nga, by next week, kailangan — with the City Tourism Office, other travel agencies, medyo palakasin natin yong surveillance at saka yong protocol na dapat ipaliwanag din sa mga papasok nating turista, lalo na kung ano ba ang ating protocol once na nag-positive sila,” he said.

“Lalo na foreign nationals yan, may mga resistance yan — yong mga freedom, freedom nila. So, dapat magkaroon tayo ng meeting with the other agencies, para kung maulitan man, alam na rin ang gagawin,” he said.

As of Saturday, the city has 24 active COVID-19 cases: 8 (local) and 16 (imported).

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.