President Rodrigo Duterte. (Presidential Photo)

MANILA – Amid public concerns over a possible outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the Philippines, President Rodrigo R. Duterte encouraged his fellow Filipinos to travel with him around the country.

Duterte made the call as he guaranteed that it remains “safe” to take a tour of beautiful places in the country.

“To my fellow Filipinos, I encourage you to travel with me around the Philippines. I assure you that everything is safe in our country, be it an issue of health, be it an issue of law and order, and be it an issue of accessibility,” he said in a video message shared by Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM) on Friday.

Covid-19 has stoked fears worldwide, after the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has quickly spread to more than 20 countries.

The deadly virus has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and afflicted nearly 60,000 others.

In the Philippines, there have been three confirmed cases involving three Chinese nationals from Wuhan, China. One died while the other two had been discharged from the hospital after recovering from Covid-19.

Despite the threat of the disease, Duterte said Filipino travelers need not worry since airlines, hotels, and resorts have agreed to reduce their rates for the coming months.

“They have agreed to lower the rates so that we can be a viable market for the Philippines. Come with me and be my travel companion. I’ll be traveling around the Philippines. Let’s travel around the country. Let’s first visit the places here. Long live, Filipinos! Long live, Philippine tourism!” he said in a mixture of English and Filipino.

Explore ‘hidden’ gems

In a Laging Handa press briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Filipinos may opt to visit the country’s “hidden gems”.

“We invite everyone to explore the ‘hidden gems’ in the Philippines and to discover places you’ve never been to in our country’s 7,641 islands,” Nograles said.

He issued the statement as he cited the transportation department’s estimate that the government would lose about PHP42.9 billion in revenues from January to April due to the threat posed by Covid-19.

Nograles, nevertheless, ensured that the government is ready to cushion the new coronavirus’ impact on the Philippine economy through domestic tourism.

“If, however, our partners in the tourism sector and other sectors continue to be adversely affected, there are available government lending programs offered by (Land Bank of the Philippines) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP),” he said.

Nograles noted that Land Bank offers the Calamity Rehabilitation Support or CARES program, which includes rehabilitation through loan restructuring and providing loans to small and medium-sized enterprises.

“The basic terms are a 6 percent fixed rate for the first two years or first five years for long-term loans, subject to annual repricing thereafter. Allow me to stress that LandBank is open to lowering the rate if warranted,” he said.

On the other hand, the DBP has the RESPONSE Program, a rehabilitation financing program that is used for disease infestations that result in significant socio-economic damages, Nograles said.

“The program provides for more relaxed terms; a reduced equity requirement of up to 5 percent of project cost and a reduced margin to 1 percent,” he said.

Still ‘on top of situation’

As of Friday, there were 191 persons under investigation (PUIs) for Covid-19 who have been admitted to various health facilities, while 260 PUIs have already been discharged, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told reporters in the press conference.

Duque added that about 252 PUIs have tested negative for the coronavirus, while some 186 PUIs have pending test results from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

He, however, assured that the government, through the Department of Health, is on top of the situation to ensure that there would be no local transmission of Covid-19 in the country.

“I wish to reiterate that we do not have any confirmed case of the Covid-19 in the country, as of the moment. I need to mention this time and again. It’s perhaps not the question of ‘if’ but rather a question of ‘when’. So that’s why we cannot afford to let our guard down, despite the fact that we still don’t have local transmission,” Duque said. (PNA)