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Alba Iulia
Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Philippines has never felt so far away

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Jason Cordi
Jason Cordi
Editor-in-Chief, The Philippine Times

We’ve reached the second half of 2020, and it has been a difficult year so far. Most people are looking forward to 2021, hoping that next year will bring change and opportunity. For now, everyone has different ways of coping with the pandemic and the unexpected challenges it brings.

For those living in Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, Stage 3 Stay-at-home restriction has returned and the general population is facing what’s known as ‘lockdown fatigue’.

While most have been trying to live life safely in the new normal, Victorians for the first time since the Spanish Flu of 1918 are unable to travel to other states in Australia. Thousands of people usually escape the winter chill of Melbourne in search of warmer weather and sunny skies.

Many Filos tend to prefer to travel to the Philippines during the Australian winter, even for a quick escape on an eight-hour flight, which with direct flights, makes getting to the Philippines quite easy. But this obviously has not been possible this year.

Since 25 March, Australia’s COVID-19 travel ban commenced which only allowed returning Australians into the country, and exiting foreigners out of the country.

There have been several predictions as to when international travel will re-commence, with initial discussions suggesting late 2020, which has since been revised.

On 24 June, Qantas CEO Alan Jones announced job cuts to 6,000 Qantas staff, due to their forecast that overseas travel will recommence in July 2021, but will not return to pre-COVID levels until 2023. 

The truth is, no one really knows when exactly travelling overseas will start up again, and no one knows which countries we will be able to visit initially, let alone the Philippines.

Who would have thought there would be a second lockdown in Melbourne? One thing is for sure – the Philippines for most Filipino-Australians has never felt so far away.

Flying overseas currently has been shown to be less than exciting for international students who have chosen to return home.

The idea of sitting in a packed plane where it is mandatory to wear a mask, to then be subject to quarantine and swab testing on arrival complicates the very reason why most Australians like to travel.

Likewise in Australia on return, COVID-19 testing and mandatory hotel quarantine for 14 days remain in place due to the ongoing high numbers of COVID-19 cases in other countries.

Aussies usually look for a relaxing experience and like to take a break, recharge, learn new things, visit friends and family when they travel. The benefits of travelling are endless. However would you travel if testing and quarantine were required? Or would you prefer to wait for a vaccine?

The Philippine Department of Tourism has recently announced the prospect of opening ‘travel bubbles’ with countries that are deemed as safe with low numbers of coronavirus. This is in a bid to help revive the international tourism industry in the Philippines which according to the Department of Tourism, has lost over 60% of revenue from January to May.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat proposed the idea for Australian tourists to have the opportunity to travel direct to various international airports around the country, which aside from Manila and Cebu, could suggest that direct flights to Puerto Princesa, Kalibo, Davao, Clark and Bohol may become a possibility.

However, given the high numbers of coronavirus cases in the Philippines, it will be highly unlikely that this proposal would be safe for Filipino-Australian travellers until the curve has been flattened and a vaccine is administered to the majority of the population. 

A huge contributor to lockdown fatigue is the increased time people are looking at screens in order to stay connected virtually. While connectedness remains important, so too are taking a break to get fresh air and to be surrounded by trees which can help one recharge from the fatigue of lockdown. 

Melbournians may not be able to freely travel interstate or internationally, but they can explore and rediscover their own neighbourhood and local parks. It may not be the same as being in Boracay or Palawan, but rest assured that those destinations are not going anywhere. They will welcome balikbayans and Aussie tourists back in the years to come – hopefully by mid 2021. 

In the meantime, Filipino-Australians will continue to yearn to travel back ‘home’. Australian passport holders in particular will likely appreciate travel experiences increasingly more so in future.

There is no doubt that Filipino-Australian travellers and tourists will enjoy the very essence of travel, treat it as a luxury, and appreciate future journeys unlike never before. For one thing, travelling enriches our lives in ways that material things don’t, as it can widen our perspective and increases our knowledge.

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