By Gillian M. Cortez and Jenina P. Ibanez, Reporters
DOMESTIC flights between Philippine provinces under a relaxed lockdown may resume, the government said on Tuesday as airlines prepare to fly again after a global coronavirus pandemic halted their operations more than two months ago.
An inter-agency task force made up of Cabinet secretaries approved commercial flights between regions under a general community quarantine with conditions, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade told a news briefing.
“Flights for leisure are prohibited,” he said in Filipino. The flights must also be approved by local governments, he added.
Meanwhile, flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and rival Cebu Pacific will resume operations with limited capacity on Wednesday. AirAsia in a statement said it would resume flights on June 5.
PAL would offer limited domestic flights, spokeswoman Cielo C. Villaluna said at a separate briefing.
“The Inter-Agency Task Force yesterday allowed us to fly to Cebu, Davao, Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro,” she said in Filipino.
Cebu Pacific spokeswoman Charo L. Logamon urged travelers to arrive at airports earlier because health checks mean it would take longer to process passengers.
“Because we have physical distancing, check-in and boarding will take longer so passengers must come earlier,” she said at the same briefing. Domestic travelers should be at the airport at least three hours before their flights, she added.
The Department of Health reported 359 new infections yesterday, bringing the total to 18,997.
Of the new cases, 176 involved test results released in the past three days, while 184 were released four days ago or more, it said in a bulletin.
The death toll rose to 966 after six more patients died. Eighty-four more patients have gotten well, bringing the total recoveries to 4,063.
Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism (DoT) said it would prioritize promotion of domestic land travel as it tries to recover losses from a 62% decline in foreign tourist arrivals.
International arrivals plunged to 1.3 million from January to April from 3.4 million a year earlier, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said at a separate online news briefing yesterday.
Tourist shops with a certification from the agency may operate in places under a general community quarantine. Hotels and in-house food and take-out operations must get the permit.
Mr. Puyat said local governments were not yet ready to accept tourists. “Some local government units are still hesitant to open,” she said. “We still have to restore the confidence of the tourists.”
The Tourism department said it was in talks with local governments in La Union, Baler, Pampanga and Batangas to boost land travel.
DoT and the Trade department have adopted the so-called Safe Pass digital solution that helps businesses plan spaces for physical distancing, enforce health protocols and manage contact tracing.
The Tourism department has helped almost 37,000 stranded foreign and domestic tourists with sweeper and commercial flights and accommodations, it said.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain the pandemic. People should stay home except to buy food and other basic goods, he said.
He extended the lockdown for the island twice and thrice for Manila and nearby cities where COVID-19 infections have been mostly concentrated. The lockdown in the capital region was relaxed starting June 1. — with Vann Marlo M. Villegas