COVID-19 test subsidy for domestic travelers almost a done deal — TPB

Published December 8, 2020, 9:07 AM

by Hanah Tabios

PANGLAO, Bohol – The COVID-19 test subsidy for domestic travel is almost a done deal which is seen to boost the recovery of the hardest hit tourism sector, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) said. 

In an interview with the Manila Bulletin, TPB Chief Operating Officer (COO) Atty. Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones said the Department of Tourism (DOT), through its marketing arm TPB, will soon enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) to finally roll out the subsidized reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) swab test for domestic travelers. 

The UP-PGH testing cost is currently at P1,800 per kit, much lower than those charged by most of the testing laboratory centers averaging from P4,500. Once approved, travelers only have to pay around P900 per test, which is by far the lowest COVID-19 RT-PCR testing price in the country. 

“It’s almost a done deal kasi may agreement na kami in principle (because we already have an agreement in principle),” Allones said. 

The TPB chief said the agency will tap its emergency fund to be able to sustain the revival of the sector. Under Republic Act 9593, the Tourism Act of 2009, 10 percent of the allocation for promotions and marketing is set aside as a Special Contingency Fund (SCF) of the TPB. The law provides that this can be used in the event of emergencies to provide the TPB with sufficient resources to undertake marketing and promotions activities that will encourage sustained tourism interest in the Philippines and that will address the adverse effects of these emergencies.

Around 11 percent or about P10 million out of the P87 million contingency fund will be used to subsidize the cost of testing. 

During the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) meeting last week, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año all agreed that the DOT will lead the implementation of low-cost RT-PCR for Boracay-bound non-Aklanon tourists through the said partnership. 

The BIATF also agreed that the tourism department will secure at least 1,500 RT-PCR test kits for the implementation of expanded testing in Boracay Island. 

But Allones said all domestic tourists can avail of the subsidized testing regardless of the destination. 

She added that the DOT and TPB are also currently exploring other partnerships with almost the same testing rate to cater to the needs of tourists and tourism stakeholders as the current RT-PCR testing price remains a deterrent to travel.

“We received feedback from our Boracay stakeholders na maraming nag-cancel nung ginawang compulsory yung test before travel na RT-PCR kasi nga naman mahal (a number of visitors cancelled their bookings when we made the RT-PCR test compulsory because it’s really expensive,” she said. 

“We just have to brace ourselves for the adjustments and hindi natin macocompromise talaga yung safety ng lahat (and we cannot compromise the safety of everyone),” she added. 

“I hope they will contribute to that patriotic duty to travel around the country but alongside that is the important commitment to the protocols kasi (because) it’s not as convenient as before,” Allones said.