AMIDST the call from the World Health Organization (WHO) for international solidarity against the coronavirus disease, which is now known as Covid-19, the Philippines braces for its impact on the local economy, as travel bans both inbound and outbound, have hounded the country since the outbreak.

The much publicized death of Dr. Li Wenliang last February 7, 2020 created a media storm when he tried to warn the world about the coronavirus outbreak in late December 2019 in Wuhan. Days before his death while being treated for the deadly virus, Li said the situation could have been different had the Chinese officials acted immediately instead of censoring him and hiding the information from the public.

In the beginning of the crisis, it seemed that the Chinese National Government put its own interests above the lives and safety of the Chinese people and the world.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” he told the New York Times, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.” Today, there are even more questions that surround the true timelines of Covid-19, its origins and the true number of infected and dying.

To date, the Philippines has imposed a temporary travel ban covering visitors coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and has just lifted its ban to Taiwan. It likewise bars Filipinos from traveling to these territories in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo explained only Filipinos and holders of permanent Philippine resident visas coming from these places will be allowed to enter the Philippines subject to a mandatory quarantine.

Local airline executives also admitted their operations have been affected with passengers seeking refunds or rebooking trips overseas after Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia Philippines gave passengers the option to rebook or refund tickets to China until next month.

For instance, Cebu Pacific, which serves over 20 million passengers annually, has 55,000 seats per week allocated to China routes such as Beijing, Shanghai, Canton, Xiamen, Shenzen, Hong Kong and Macau.

PAL, on the other hand, flies to Beijing, Shanghai, Canton, Xiamen, Jinjiang, Hong Kong and Macau while Air Asia Philippines has flights to Canton, Shanghai, and Shenzen, Hong Kong and Macau.

With the ban, the influx of Chinese tourists to the Philippines is also greatly affected. This will definitely affect the tourism industry since China ranks second after South Korea in terms of tourist arrivals in the country for the past several years.

Official data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed that for the first 10 months of 2019, Korea topped the list of arrivals with a total of 1,609,172 tourists, followed closely by China with 1,499,524 tourist arrivals. The United States was at third place with 872,335 for the ten-month period. Historically, international tourists in the Philippines have an average spend of USD 1,073.00 per capita in 2018. If applied to 2019 numbers, Chinese tourists will have generated USD 1.8 Billion for the Philippine economy.

The final numbers for 2020 have yet to be seen, but what is sure is the impact and cost is felt not just in terms of human lives lost but in the livelihoods affected in the Philippines and all over the world.

In the international front, a report by the Globaldata Travel and Tourism opined that the new corona virus outbreak could “pose a long-term impact on the tourism industry.”

“Under the guidance of government advice, airlines such as British Airways, Qantas and United Airlines have suspended around 25,000 flights collectively. If these suspensions continue for a prolonged period, some of the world’s busiest air routes will be severely disrupted. This may leave some airlines with significant revenue deficits,” it said.

“Meanwhile, a number of cruises have been cancelled and hotel groups with properties in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are waiving cancellation fees,” it added.

Emphasizing the need to contain the pandemic, Globaldata said China has grown from the fourth largest source market globally, with 47.7million outbound tourists in 2009 to become the largest, with 159 million tourists in 2019.

“It seems unlikely that there will be a long-term decline in outbound tourism once the virus is contained, meaning China will maintain its place as the largest source market in 2020,” it opined.

The report said Chinese outbound market was the second-highest spending in 2019, with an expenditure of $275 billion.

“This figure highlights the importance of the Chinese market on the tourism industry and is a stark warning of the economic impact the coronavirus cold have,” it concluded.

As governments around the world execute measures to contain the outbreak and protect their citizens, finding a cure to COVID-19 may take a while. The WHO chief said the body is conducting deeper investigations to identify the source of this virus and to prevent further transmission from animals to humans.

Ghebreyesus disclosed that the WHO is now developing a master plan for coordinating clinical trials and ensuring “they are done coherently and consistently.”

Official data from the WHO website said that as of February 12, there are 44,730 cases of COVID-19 in China, with 1,114 deaths. While outside China, there are 441 cases from 24 countries, and one death, which occurred in the Philippines.

The WHO chief warned the “outbreak could still go in any direction.” (PR)