Task force officials eye gradual reopening of Bohol tourism amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) - Residents of Bohol may see tourism businesses reopen in the coming months amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from the Task Force on COVID-19 said on Saturday.

Task Force Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez, Jr. said they hope to turn the island-province into a "model" of the "new normal" by slowly reviving its tourism industry.

"Unang una, ang (plan) namin is matulungan ang Bohol to open up its businesses," he said in a statement after his visit to the province. "So ang nakikita natin na ang primary needs sa Bohol (na kailangang aksyunan) is yung tourism and travel."

[Translation: First of all, our plan is to help Bohol open up its businesses. So the primary needs we see from Bohol (that needs action) is tourism and travel.]]

He said they hope to conduct simulations in June and July, followed by partial reopenings, and eventually open all tourism businesses in coordination with the local government and the Trade and Tourism departments.

Deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon said increased COVID-19 testing capacity will also play a vital role in this plan. He added that the government is eyeing a testing laboratory in the Bohol-Panglao International Airport while Galvez said they want another laboratory at the seaport and one for the provincial government.

"It will be an absolute necessity now for all international airports to have their own laboratory, and Bohol is a top priority because of the strength of the tourist industry in Bohol," said Dizon.

Bohol only listed two cases of COVID-19, according to the Department of Health's case tracker, despite being known as a tourism-rich province. It is known for its Chocolate Hills spot, white-sand beaches and for being the home of the tarsier.

The province is currently under general community quarantine meaning non-essential businesses are also allowed to operate.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat earlier this week told the Senate 54 percent of the sector's revenues have dropped. The industry did not gain any revenue in April due to imposed travel restrictions, she said. This prompted the department to request a stimulus package of P70 billion to aid 5.4 million employees. The tourism sector comprises 12.7 percent of the country's economy, Puyat added.