Over the next few weeks, Philippine Airlines is expected to transport to Guam about 1,600 travelers from the Philippines, said Dr. Felix Cabrera, who's with the governor's physicians' advisory group.
The first PAL flight to arrive on Guam since the pandemic suspended direct air link between Manila and Guam is expected on June 13.
The Philippines is considered a hotspot for COVID-19, with its number of cases doubling in still alarming numbers.
As of June 4, a total of 20,382 confirmed COVID-19 cases including 984 deaths have been reported in the Philippines, the World Health Organization stated.
Many of the passengers who are being transported from the Philippines to Guam are Guam residents who have been stuck in Metro Manila when the Philippines suspended air travel.
It is unfortunate that they will have to be quarantined for 14 days when they get here, which is a reversal of the governor's earlier decision to have them self-quarantine from home. However, at the rate COVID-19 cases are still rising in the Philippines, the decision for the required quarantine in GovGuam-designated quarantine facilities makes sense.
We recall the first cases of COVID-19 all came from the Philippines, in March, at a time when the country was still reporting low COVID-19 cases.
An alternative to required quarantine in a designated government facility is the implementation of rapid COVID-19 testing at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport upon arrival, but Cabrera acknowledged in a press conference that Guam lacks the capacity to do testing at the point of entry for all arriving passengers.
We can only hope GovGuam can accommodate all the travelers from the Philippines who will need to be quarantined at the government-designated sites. Cabrera said the volume of arriving passengers has been communicated to the local officials in charge of the quarantine decision-making.
Tourism needs strategic risk-management to stay alive
At some point, Guam will have to figure out ways to keep the risk of spreading COVID-19 low while allowing the tourism industry to reopen for business.
There are ways to do this without requiring tourists to stay in quarantine on Guam. A typical tourist's Guam vacation is for five days, or not more than a week, so a 14-day quarantine does not work.
GovGuam can consistently do temperature scans at the airport and travelers who show a temperature of more than 100 degrees F, as well as their traveling companions, can be required to submit to rapid COVID-19 testing.
GovGuam can also conduct aggressive contact tracing and plan to test hotel and restaurant workers as they are at high risk of exposure to travelers.
There are ways for tourism to be allowed to rebound while also protecting the island's residents.
It takes some planning and heavy lifting, but it can be done.
Let's engage the tourism stakeholders and the public health sector in meaningful conversations – all with the goal of keeping the island safe health-wise and supporting the health of the island economy at the same time.