Tourists shun popular Bohol beach over novel coronavirus worries

Annie Perez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2020 08:59 PM

Alona Beach in Panglao town, Bohol is nearly deserted on Friday, as tourists with concerns over the 2019 novel coronavirus back out of their vacation plans. Annie Perez, ABS-CBN News

PANGLAO, Bohol—Alona Beach here used to be packed with tourists, but amid fears of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) this popular travel destination is nearly deserted.

Visitors of this white-sand public beach that boasts crystal-clear waters know that, even on weekdays, Alona is usually filled with holidaymakers both local and international. Today is different, though, because the threat of being sick looms.

"We are very affected because there are no group tours anymore," said James Cumba, who offers island-hopping services.

He said his business has suffered because of travel cancellations, including from China, where the new coronavirus originated.

Eriko, a Japanese citizen who has been working as a local dive instructor for more than 15 years, said this is her first time to experience such a drop in the number of dive students.

"This is worse than the SARS outbreak," she said.

The local government (LGU) of Bohol acknowledged that the tourism industry is struggling.

Bohol, which is putting public-health measures in place, is now thinking of temporarily banning arrivals of Chinese tourists in the province until the 2019-nCoV outbreak ends.

"There is a big implication with the ban, but we are studying it. One thing is for sure, we are not a main gateway," said Bohol acting governor Rene Relampagos.

The death toll in China from the new coronavirus reached more than 200 on Friday, with overall cases worldwide rising rapidly in an outbreak that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency.

The death toll in Hubei province -- the virus' epicenter -- has risen to 204 and there were nearly 9,700 cases of infection nationally as of Thursday, Chinese health authorities said. About 100 cases have been reported in at least 18 other countries, with no deaths outside China.