Baguio tourist boom seen with adoption of antigen testing for domestic travelers

Published October 2, 2020, 5:40 PM

by Hanah Tabios

The Department of Tourism (DOT) sees a domestic tourism boom in Baguio City as the Department of Health (DOH) rolls out the pilot application of antigen testing for local tourists visiting the Philippines’ summer capital. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously said that Baguio is the preferred pilot site with its model governance in managing the spread and containment of the dreaded novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), leading the way for aggressive and organized contact tracing in the Philippines.

Antigen tests are used to determine current or active infections among patients. They collect and use swab samples to test a person under monitoring for COVID-19 in a process similar to the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests. However, unlike RT-PCR, test results that can take up to three days to process, results of antigen tests could be determined within four to six hours.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat welcomed the adoption of the antigen testing as a way to determine if Baguio City’s visitors are COVID-19 free. 

 “Together with the World Health Organization (WHO), the DOH, and Baguio City, we support the piloting of antigen testing so that Filipinos are encouraged to travel using a more affordable test with instant results,” she said. 

Based on the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) Resolution No. 73, antigen testing is allowed together with other COVID testing methods to be used on domestic tourists and authorized and essential travelers. In Baguio, it runs parallel with RT-PCR tests for comparison. 

The said testing is also timely as the reopening anticipates an increase in the number of leisure trips and commuter traffic within the region, and in the other parts of the country where COVID cases have been declared low and controlled.  

“The re-opening of tourism in Baguio City is a calibrated and deliberate move after consultations with the stakeholders, the community and the health sector. We will never compromise the health and safety of our constituents and visitors. That is why we are working on the principle of safe, sure and responsible travel,” Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said.

Puyat said the pilot antigen test results in Baguio will help determine if the alternative testing procedure can be used as an official test or whether testing can be done in the earliest stages of infection.  

Currently, RT-PCR tests remain the standard requirement for domestic travel. But Puyat acknowledged that some individuals are reluctant to travel as this type of test would incur additional and relatively high expenses. 

“Faster and cheaper, antigen testing will benefit potential visitors of the city now that the Ridge and Reef Travel Corridor program is in full swing,” she added. 

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, Puyat said, “According to Mayor Magalong, if all goes well, they will extend it to Region 2, Region 3 and hopefully by December, for NCR  (National Capital Region) residents,”

Benguet and the other provinces in the Cordilleras have earlier indicated their interest in joining the travel bubble in the coming months.

Prior to its reopening day last Oct. 1, 66 tourists had signed up in the online registration system, the Baguio Visitor Information and Travel Assistance (VIS.I.T.A). But the tourism chief said only 39 visitors have been accepted and they were from Region 1. 

The Baguio City local government unit also imposed a cap of 200 visitors per day, but Mayor Benjamin Magalong said in a previous press briefing that the initial carrying capacity might still change depending on the COVID-19 situation in Baguio. 

In the recent weeks, several barangays in the city have been placed on hard lockdowns amid the spike in coronavirus cases.