There is a lot of anger and frustration on Boracay Island during this Omicron surge because once again, tourism numbers have fallen dramatically.
Tourism is the main economic driver of this region. And when there are no tourists, “I can’t feed my kids,” one paddle board operator told me on White Beach.
December 2021 had a pandemic-high record of tourists visit Boracay: 113,600 visitors.
December 2020 had just 15,300.
Before the pandemic, December 2019 had 153,400.
(Latter two stats are from the local government’s website.)
January 2022 likely won’t come anywhere near 113,600 tourists with ‘uncontrollable spread’ of the coronavirus Omicron variant happening in Manila. Most of the tourists on Boracay for the recent holidays were from Manila. The country is still closed to foreign tourists.
Aklan on Alert Level 3
Aklan Province, of which Boracay is a part, is now on Alert Level 3 until January 31.
There are no widespread ‘lockdowns’ at the moment. Tourists can still come, with a negative test.
Alert Level 3 (a new system, by the way) means businesses are limited to 30% capacity indoors, 50% capacity outdoors, and workers must be fully vaccinated. Also, I’ve noticed more establishments are checking vaccination cards – a first around these parts.
Another first: there will be random checks for compliance. This is from the local declaration on Alert Level 3, added on to the official national system requirements.
Granular lockdowns, as they’re called, of certain buildings and streets are a new thing in Manila. I wouldn’t be surprised of those creep up around Boracay, Malay Municipality mainland, or anywhere around Aklan Province. The idea is to slow the spread, without crushing businesses.
Boracay businesses down, not out
But for Boracay, it’s too late. Businesses are crushed – for the moment, anyway.
- Flights are canceled due to staff sickness
- Restaurants, souvenir shops, convenience stores are virtually empty
- Hotels are once again offering cut-rate deals to get any business
- Trikes are fewer in number – no sense driving around with no fares
- One of the two western-style grocery stores is closed for good (Giasano)
People’s spirits also seem crushed. Waitresses hold menus and look for potential diners. Trike drivers are back to hustling for money beyond the regular rate. Souvenir shop clerks stare out at nothing.
Once again, I can be on Boracay’s expansive White Beach and not come into contact with anyone at all.
I’ve been coming to Boracay since June 2020 for weekly visits. That was the first time I was allowed onto the island in the pandemic. (We’ve been on mainland Malay since March 2020.) Things were really desperate on the island paradise back then. By the end of 2020, suicides were a problem because the financial outlook was so bleak.
Things were looking up in 2021. Gradually, more tourists came. Flights increased. Planes buzzed by our mainland apartment several times a day.
The coronavirus case load dropped dramatically in the fourth quarter. The government stopped requiring negative tests for tourists to entice them to act on those pent-up travel desires.
There were actual crowds on White Beach by the end of the year. Not as many as years past, of course, but enough to make me wonder what the hell was going to happen next.
Sailboats came over from the mainland to take holiday tourists on sunset cruises. The sailors had some income again and were happy – with actual smiles – when they went back home to the mainland.
We’ve seen tour groups from Boracay on the mainland headed to the Nabaoy River and other attractions, likely spreading – albeit unknowingly – the Omicron variant.
What’s happening on Boracay during Omicron phase
Tourists are once again required to have a negative nasal test to be allowed onto the island. But the test must be taken 72 hours before a trip. That’s three days to get a whiff of Omicron after a sample is taken.
That’s in addition to the local Filipinos and Ati tribe members who frequently go back and forth between Boracay and the port town Caticlan on the mainland, both part of Malay.
Besides, Omicron is likely already here – on Boracay and on the mainland. Genome sequencing on positive cases is currently underway.
I know a lot of people with ‘colds’ – on the mainland and on Boracay. Thankfully, when these people haven’t felt well, they’ve stayed home.
There is a growing anger I sense among the locals on Boracay, expat residents, too. The debate rages about how all of this has played out, and some people are looking to lay blame.
I don’t get involved in any debates – I’m just a visitor. But I will say the local authorities seem to be doing all they can to slow the spread, while trying to avoid another full lockdown. Fifty-percent or 30% capacity with ‘surprise visits’ is better than total lockdown.
Boosters are now underway on Boracay. The process is much different from the way the spouse and I experienced – with preregistration and text messages on when to go. Now it’s first come, first served – no preregistration required. The first round happened this week – several days after the end of the holiday season.
I hope the boosters help. I’m proud the United States of America donated several million Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson shots.
I hope the Omicron phase doesn’t last too long, and that my Filipino friends hold on to some hope.
The suicide prevention program in the Philippines is by the Department of Health. There are several numbers based on your location and cell phone provider listed on the department’s website.
Thanks for reading “What’s happening on Boracay during Omicron phase.”
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