Siargao tourist operators worried as seaports reopen

GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island (MindaNews / 6 May) – Tourist operators here have expressed fears that the island may eventually have positive cases of the dreaded coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as Siargao reopened for incoming passengers a few days ago, courtesy of an order from the governor of Surigao del Norte.

A health worker at the Dapa Port in Siargao Island checks an arriving tourist’s temperature way back in February.  MindaNews file photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

Gov. Francisco T. Matugas, in his Memorandum Order 20-130 dated May 1, lifted the no-sail policy for inter-island boats and vessels in Surigao del Norte travelling “to and from Siargao (including Bucas Grande Island) and Dinagat Province.”

Siargao had been closed for passengers since sometime late March due to the COVID-19 threat until May 1.

The Siargao Island Tourism Operators Association (STOA) – in its appeal letter dated May 3 addressed to Agusan del Norte Governor Dale Corvera, chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force-Caraga – said the airport and seaports of the whole island should still be closed.

STOA president Ian Sermonia said he favors closure of the island from outsiders, citing health and security reasons.

So far, there has been no officially documented COVID-19 case in Siargao, but island residents are worried with the resumption of the passenger vessel trips.

The island can be accessed through an airport in Sayak in Del Carmen town but only a few sweeper flights for stranded passengers were allowed since March 18.

Siargao seaports are located in the towns of Dapa, Del Carmen and Santa Monica.

Sermonia said boat passengers should not be allowed yet until further safety nets, facilities, and testing kits are set up.

“With the opening of ports, the threat that COVID-19 can enter the island becomes very real again,” he said.

Sermonia added that the people in Siargao have been practicing the spirit of bayanihan through initiatives like helping those in need, building community gardens and farms, and helping each other keep afloat during this tourism crisis.

“Many of the inhabitants sacrificed and abided by the Enhanced Community Quarantine guidelines by staying home to [help prevent the] spread of the disease. Opening the ports without further preparation and planning could put all of these efforts to waste,” he stressed.

Sermonia noted that Siargao does not have the facilities to care for patients who would be sick in case they catch the COVID-19 virus. He added that no test kits have so far arrived in Siargao, thus making it difficult to monitor cases. Hospital facilities and protective personal equipment (PPE) are not complete, too, putting health practitioners at risk.

“We are appealing for temporary reconsideration of the no-sail policy until we can further prepare for the eventuality should the dreaded virus come to the island. The reinstatement of the no-sail policy would buy some time to fortify the island’s defenses against this unseen threat that is devastating the whole world,” he said. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)