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August 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Perils of Travel Remain in the Time of COVID

a cautionary tale of our times

from the August, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

My husband and I headed to the Philippines for a liveaboard trip aboard the Discovery Palawan, which was to leave on June 16 from Puerto Princesa for the Tubbataha Reefs National Park. We were required to have a negative COVID test before we arrived in the Philippines.

There were 21 passengers and 27 crew on board the Discovery Palawan. We all took a rapid test before boarding. We later learned that one passenger had a questionable result but retested negative before we left the port.

Three days into the trip, the same guy (who brought rapid antigen tests with him) told the first officer he had symptoms, and his self-test was positive. We were told we could all test if we wanted, but our trip would continue as planned. The COVID-positive guest was quarantined in his cabin. Two days later, another guest had cold-like symptoms. He took a rapid test and was positive.

Tuesday, June 21, the day before we returned to the port, all guests and crew were required to take a rapid test. Three guests tested positive (and no crew members). The next morning, Wednesday, June 22, we arrived in Puerto Princesa. We were all taken to a government facility, an old hotel that had been converted to a COVID facility, where we had to stay for 48 hours before we could be tested at the government lab. The crew stayed on the boat.

We were housed in dirty rooms with barely working plumbing and cameras to monitor us. Our toilet did not have a toilet seat, so my husband took one from another room and installed it on ours. They never cleaned the rooms or the linens. Cats roamed the hallways day and night, marking their territory. We could not leave our rooms or go outside. I asked for a knife to cut some fruit and was told we were not allowed sharp objects, as if we were prisoners. We were to monitor our vitals - we had to buy a battery for the blood pressure machine - and report them to a nurse three times daily. We were never physically examined by any medical professionals.

On Friday, we were all taken to an outdoor facility for a PCR test; only five people tested negative. Later that day, we all took rapid tests, and everyone was negative. The five PCR negatives were allowed to leave the province on a plane. The rest of us were required to stay for another six days. I had tested positive, and my husband was negative, so I asked if he could stay with me. They put us in separate rooms.

The next morning the doctor told my husband that if he stayed, he would be retested in four days, and if that test were positive, his quarantine would start over. Given that we had no confidence in their testing, we decided it was best for him to go to Manila and wait for me to leave the facility. He was required to get an immediate flight and fly to Manila because he might be a "carrier."

On Monday, the crew all tested negative at the same lab we had gone to and were allowed to go about their business. We requested to be retested at another facility but were told there was nowhere else to go. So, there we sat.

We were finally released on Thursday, June 30. It was the worst experience of my life! I am still having nightmares from this ordeal.

We believe that the boat operator has some liability in all this. They offered to wash some clothes for us, but nothing else, and have not since contacted us.

We had to pay $54 per person (cash only) for the tests and for the facility $30/day/ person (extra for toilet paper and ice), only in cash, which we got from an ATM. And, of course, expenses for airline change fees and food and lodging expenses in Manila.

I am telling you all this so others know the risks of traveling to the Philippines! If we had any idea this was a possible outcome of our trip, we never would have gone!

Lisa M. Annaheim (Palm Coast, FL)

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