The Philippines reopened the famous Boracay resort island in the country's central region this month as part of its bid to boost the country's economy as threats from the coronavirus pandemic linger.
The reopening came after the idyllic island known for its white sand beach has recorded zero virus cases since June. The government has decided to allow both Filipino and foreign tourists onto the island provided that they have negative COVID-19 test results.
Thirty-five tourists visited the island on the first day, Thursday, followed by 13 the following day, according to a local government. With so few tourists, the beach was largely empty.
"I'm very happy that after many months, we were able to open Boracay for all tourists," Frolibar Bautista, acting mayor of Malay in Aklan Province, of which Boracay is a part, told reporters on Thursday. "I'm expecting that many will come."
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, speaking in a virtual briefing due to her having been in close proximity to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, stressed the need to restart tourism.
"Many lose their jobs, and we need to find a way to restart tourism, to restart the economy, but with health and safety protocols," she said.
After three months of travel restrictions amid the pandemic, the island reopened to the Western Visayas region covering six central provinces in mid-June. But a full reopening needed to wait another three and a half months.
Before Thursday's reopening, officials examined whether businesses certified to operate are complying with the health protocols.
Some hotels and resorts have been offering up to 75 percent discounts on room rates to attract local and foreign tourists in the coming days.
Romulo-Puyat said it is better to start with a small number of tourists so the health protocols in place can be tested. "We still have many things to improve," the secretary said.
She also underlined the importance of tourism for economic revival in the wake of the pandemic, noting that the sector accounts for 12.7 percent of the economy.
"Boracay is one of our top tourist destinations. So we really need to reopen," Romulo-Puyat said.
The Philippines had recorded 316,678 cases of COVID-19, the highest number in Southeast Asia, as of Friday, including 5,616 deaths, according to the Health Department.