Tessie Henderson: hoping for tax freeze. Credit: Mindy Gana
MANILA - The Philippine government has placed its capital Manila under lock down or "community quarantine" from Sunday, 15 March to 14 April. President Rodrigo Duterte announced this drastic measure in a bid to contain the dreaded COVID-19 virus, which started this month with three confirmed cases and a death, and has spiked now to about 52 confirmed cases and two fatalities.
Such developments have led the government to also raise the response alert level to Code Red, Sub-level 2, which health officials earlier explained to mean "sustained community transmission," with patients contracting the disease locally. Some prominent public executives, including finance secretary Carlos Dominguez, came into contact with a COVID-19 confirmed individual, and went into self-quarantine this week.
Mr Duterte said land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila will be prohibited during the period. He also said individuals, who work in the city and its environs, or had business to transact, would be allowed to enter, provided they had a company ID or show proof of their purpose.
In general, local tourism and MICE industry players have reacted with patience and fortitude to this latest roadblock, just as they have in the past when they were faced with challenges such as terrorism (kidnapping of foreign visitors by the radical Abu Sayyaf band in 2001), natural disasters (Typhoons Yolanda in 2012 and Haiyan in 2015) and various world economic downturns.
However, the underlying sentiment is that the industry needs financial aid. Ms Tessie Henderson, chairman, Intas Destination Management, another veteran of the MICE industry, has looked on with dismay these past weeks as the virus decimated promising business for 2020. Intas has been recognised for decades as the leading Philippine operator in countries such as Italy, the UK and Germany. She said: "The situation is unlike anything that we have encountered in the past. It's been hitting everyone in different ways, and we still don't know much about it.
"With SARs (the other deadly virus that appeared in early 2000), the growth was slow…this one has been just so fast."
Ms Henderson said that all that MICE and incentive travel professionals like Intas can do is to make adjustments for clients whose itineraries have been disrupted. Destinations are switched or moved forward and customers are always kept up to date of a very fluid situation.
Ms Henderson made an intense plea to the Duterte government as well as the banks "for understanding and providing a bailout plan" so companies do not have to go under and jobs can be saved. "We have amortisation to pay for, and we hope some taxes can be frozen for a while in order to survive. Aid is what we need now!"
She said that until more information is known about COVID-19, it will be a case of "wait and see," and lost opportunities, such as a large medical conference of 2,500 international participants, which recently declined to continue staging their powwow in Manila this July.