By Roel Catoto
GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island – The business sector here has expressed its fears that reopening the island to outsiders could also spur the entry of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In a letter of appeal addressed to Agusan del Norte Governor Dale Corvera, who is the chairperson of the Caraga region Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19, the Siargao Island Tourism Operators Association (STOA) said the airport and seaports in the island should remain closed.
“With the opening of ports, the threat that COVID-19 can enter the island becomes very real again. Despite the one-meter distance between passengers and wearing of face masks, proper monitoring measures of travelers entering would be put to an immediate and unnecessary test and strain once again,” said STOA President Ian Sermonia in the letter dated May 3.
The tourism sector in the island was apprehensive about the issuance of a provincial memorandum order last May 1, which lifted the no-sail policy in Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Province.
The provincial executive order provided for the lifting of inter-island boat and vessel services going to and from Siargao, including Bucas Grande and Dinagat Islands.
Siargao Island has been COVID-19 free up, but residents are worried that the viral disease could make its way into the island, which was reopened beginning May 2.
The island can be accessed through the airport in Sayak in Del Carmen town, while there are seaports in the towns of Dapa, Del Carmen and Santa Monica.
Authorities have been conducting sweeper flights since March 18 to ferry foreign and domestic tourists, who were stranded because of the restrictive quarantines imposed due to COVID-19, back to their homes.
“Many of the inhabitants sacrificed and abided by the enhanced community quarantine guidelines by staying home to protect any potential spread of the disease. Opening the ports without further preparation and planning could put all of these efforts to waste,” Sermonia said.
He likewise stressed that Siargao did not have the facilities to care for any patients who could get sick due to coronavirus. Neither has there been any effort to conduct tests in the island, he pointed out.
Sermonia also said health workers in the island did not even have ample personal protective equipment (PPEs).
“We are appealing for temporary reconsideration of the no sail policy until we can further prepare for the eventuality that the dreaded virus comes to the island. The reinstatement of the no sail policy would buy some time to fortify the island’s defenses to this unseen threat that is devastating the whole world,” he said.