The Year of Traveling Dangerously
Should people cancel travel plans or avoid traveling altogether amid the viral SARS CoV-2 (reportedly the new name for the COVID-2019) outbreak?
The tally, 67,102 cases and 1,523 deaths mostly in mainland China, keeps getting longer with each single day as China along with the World Health Organization member countries continue to scramble for measures to quell the outbreak. News reports that say Chinese state hospitals have began to prescribe herbal medicine to treat patients with mild symptoms seem to validate reports the virus may have developed resistance to SARS like viruses, hence China and the rest of the 28 or so countries which reported cases of viral infections will have to wait until a vaccine can be fully developed. As if the present situation is not bad enough, the WHO said it will take a year and a half before the vaccine can be made publicly available. Needless to say, this is worrisome because SARS CoV-2 is highly contagious.
Even if the timetable is exact, the travel and tourism industry will take more brutal beatings that the scenario for many industry stakeholders is akin to a slow death. Indeed, as the toll continues to rise and coronavirus cases jump, people around the world are monitoring updates in horror in the safety of their own homes.
What is the urge to travel when the spread of the dreaded disease is written every day over reports that hundreds of hospital staff in China have been infected by the viral disease, or a global shortage of protective masks has thrown many public health systems in chaos, or Cathay Pacific is in the verge of closing shop because of massive losses owing to flight cancellations to China and its administrative regions? The plight of high-end stores and luxury hotels which feeds shopping tourism in many Asian capitals also send shivers to governments and institutions that depend on tourism for revenues.
President Rodrigo Duterte cannot be faulted for asking Filipinos to “travel the Philippines with him” because tourism-related industries is taking a huge toll on the country’s coffers. Government-imposed travel restrictions to safeguard public health came with a hefty price — revenue losses worth P42.9 billion, assuming the travel ban will last only three months, according to Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.
Even under the best case scenario being echoed by the advocacy group World Travel and Tourism Council, which said it takes 19 months for visitor numbers to recover after a viral outbreak, the losses amounting to more than P266 billion will bring the PH tourism industry to its knees. I will not highlight the observation of the international tourism think tank, Tourism Economics, which sees an apocalyptic scenario – four years before Chinese tourism gets back to normal.
The death of my older brother, Oscar early this month made me go to Manila to condole with his family. Human traffic in the domestic terminal of Mactan Cebu International Airport was moderate but the sight of many passengers wearing surgical masks was enough to make people feel anxious. I took Cebu Pacific which flew right on time but seeing many co-passengers donning protective masks was off putting. This, as we keep receiving online news that new modes of human to human transmission of the virus have been discovered. Touching doorknobs, handrails of escalators, car seats earlier touched by an infected person can be a mode of viral transmission.
Flying back to Cebu, I got myself a box of face masks courtesy of a brother who took a work leave from Dammam, Saudi Arabia. With that, I joined the sea of airline passengers donning face masks waiting in the NAIA’s departure area. It was enough to make one feel sick.
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