(L-R) Puerto Princesa City mayor Lucilo Bayron, DOT secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, 3rd District Representative Gil Acosta, Jr. oversee the vaccination of a member of the tourism transport sector.

Puerto Princesa City and Palawan province rolled out their COVID-19 vaccination programs to reach an estimated 31,000 tourism workers, in a bid to boost this sector of the economy beset by the pandemic.

The Department of Tourism (DOT), the National Action Plan Against COVID-19, and the provincial government performed ceremonial vaccinations on August 3 for the first 10 representatives of various recognized tourism worker groups in each town of Coron, San Vicente, and El Nido.

From left (standing in line) El Nido Mayor Edna Gacot-Lim, 1st Palawan Legislative District Rep. Franz “Chicoy” Alvarez, DOT Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Governor Jose Alvarez, National Action Plan Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Sec. Vince Dizon, and former congressman Tony Alvarez during the ceremonial vaccination for the initial 10 tourism frontliners in El Nido on August 3, 2021. | Photo by Christine Gapulao

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Combined, the three municipalities have 16,000 individuals serving the tourism sector, according to the provincial government.

They will share an initial 30,000 doses of vaccine supplies provided by the national government with Puerto Princesa to restore the tourist sector, which is one of the province’s major economic drivers, according to Governor Jose Alvarez.

He said that they want to finish inoculating all confirmed frontliners and workers in the three towns as soon as necessary to begin travel bubble operations.

“Masyado na tayong malungkot, matagal na masyadong walang hanapbuhay ang mga kababayan natin dito sa El Nido. Yong mga bangkero na kumikita ng otso siyentos ay nagfa-farming na lang ngayon para makatanim ng palay. Gusto nilang bumalik (We’re already unhappy since there is no employment in El Nido. The P800-a-day boatmen are now cultivating to grow rice. They want to come back),” he said.

The emphasis, according to 1st Palawan District Rep. Franz “Chicoy” Alvarez, is on moving ahead despite the pandemic by ensuring that tourist frontliners and workers are protected from the coronavirus illness.

Along with this, he reminded local government units that appropriate quarantine and isolation facilities must be in place to care for individuals who may acquire the virus.

“Urong-sulong tayo, kaka-open, tapos sasarado. Ang talagang solution natin is itong vaccination dahil once na nabakunahan na yong ating tourism frontliners — lahat ng economic frontliners natin, pati mga turista natin bakunado, then meron na tayong confidence (We’re pushing and pulling, closing-opening, closing. The answer is vaccination, because once our tourism frontliners, as well as the visitors, are vaccinated, we gain confidence),” he said.

Tourism frontliners, workers next inline
Frontline workers in the tourism market, such as boatmen, tour guides, hotel staff, restaurant servers, and others, are among the essential workers who will get coronavirus vaccines next in line, says Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat in El Nido during the launching of the mass vaccination program at the Lio Tourism Estate.

Puyat said that although the province is not among the current priorities in the vaccination lines, they couldn’t say no to Rep. Alvarez, El Nido Mayor Edna Gacot-Lim’s, and Gov. Alvarez’ repeated demands for vaccinations.

“Sa totoo lang ang priority sa bakuna because of the supply is NCR (National Capital Region), hindi kasama, unfortunately ‘yong ating mga tourist destinations gaya ng Boracay at Palawan. Nakiusap naman tayo kay Sec. Vince (Dizon), at naintindihan niya ‘yong importansya na magpabakuna na tayo (To be honest, the NCR takes precedence. Tourist spots such as Boracay and Palawan, however, are not. Sec. Dizon was approached, and he recognized the necessity of frontliner immunization),” she said.

“Ang sabi ko, kapag tourism, lahat gustong magpabakuna kasi yon lang ang susi kung paano tayo tuloy-tuloy magre-restart ng tourism. Gaya ngayon, balik sarado nanaman dahil sa Delta variant, pero kapag vaccinated kayo, protektado na kayo (When it comes to tourism, as I previously said, everyone wants to get vaccinated since it is the key to continuing to restart tourism. We’re now closed due to the Delta variant, but if you’ve been vaccinated, you’re safe),” Puyat added. 

President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration aims to inoculate “all tourist workers” in the nation by 2021, not only in Boracay, Bohol, and Palawan but in all travel hubs, according to Dizon, the National Action Plan Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer.

He said that the government is pleased with the tourist stakeholders’ enthusiasm, which includes making themselves ready for vaccinations.

Dizon informed Governor Alvarez that the vaccines would be sent to Palawan as soon as they are available, to assist the province to meet its goal of reopening the tourist sector as quickly as practicable.

“From kayo pong mga nagtatrabaho sa resort, sa mga boatman, sa mga nagda-drive ng mga pedicabs, lahat po ‘yan ay essential tourism workers. Kahit isa sa kanila kapag hindi bakunado, hindi safe sa tourism industry, at hindi babalik ‘yong ating mga turista mula sa ibang bansa. Kaya kinakailangan in the next few months, bago matapos ang taon, bago pa kumanta si Jose Mari Chan, ay dapat bakunado kayong lahat (The boatman, the pedicab drivers, and all of you who work at the resort are important tourist workers. Even if one of you is unvaccinated, the tourism industry will be jeopardized, and foreign visitors would not return. You must all get vaccinated by the end of the year before Jose Mari Chan sings),” Dizon said.

15,000 frontline tourism workers in Puerto Princesa
City Tourism Department (CTD) Officer Demetrio Alvior told Palawan News at Hotel Centro that Puerto Princesa has 15,000 frontline tourism workers to be inoculated, and the process to accomplish this soon is already being set up.

The program will also include tourist transporters, such as tricycle and van drivers, souvenir shop owners and salespersons, tour guides, and hotel staff.

“Separate ‘yong para sa tourism worker[s]. I-ischedule lang ni Dr. Ric [Panganiban] para hindi naman ma-hamper ‘yong vaccination doon sa mga mamamayan. Pero ito, pag nag-vaccine para sa tourism worker, tourism worker talaga,” he said.

On the possibility of the city being included in the DOT’s travel bubble, Alvior said the department suspended its inclusion due to the declaration of a new lockdown in the NCR on August 6.

“Ang travel bubble pina-suspend ng DOT ngayon dahil sa quarantine status natin not only in Puerto Princesa but also in NCR. Starting August 6, ECQ ulit ang Metro Manila. Kapag travel bubble kasi [natin], galing alaga yan ng NCR. Mahirap magbigay ng expectation [kung kailan magkakaroon ng travel bubble] kasi hindi natin alam kung kailan matatapos itong pandemic, lalo na at nagbabanta ang Delta variant,”

Despite the danger of a worldwide vaccine supply shortfall, Dizon said the country is confident that it will reach its goal of herd immunity.

“Ngayon pa naman dumating naman. Ngayong araw na ito (August 3), may darating na Moderna, may dumating na Sinovac last week, may darating ulit na Sinovac sa August 5, may darating din na Sinopharm. So, tuloy-tuloy lang tayo basta ang importante, kung ano yong matatanggap natin na bakuna ay ibabakuna natin agad,” he said.

Dizon added that whatever vaccine brand arrives from either the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX facility or the national government’s purchase, a portion will be immediately distributed for tourism workers.

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