Workers allowed to enter Metro Manila despite COVID-19 travel restrictions – officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13)— Workers and employees may be allowed to enter Metro Manila despite the proposed travel restriction in the region, government officials said Friday.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said those who have daily jobs inside the capital region— but live in nearby provinces— will be exempted from the travel order as long as they present a work identification card or proof of employment.

"Sa ngayon, lahat ng nagta-trabaho ay pinapayagan nating pumasok, pati 'yung mga nakatira just outside Manila, 'yung outskirts, pero may permanenteng trabaho sa Manila," Año told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: Right now, we will allow those who are working in Metro Manila to enter, including those who live just outside Manila, in the outskirts, but have permanent jobs in Manila.]

Metro Manila Development Authority General Manager Jojo Garcia shared the sentiment, saying officials only wanted to limit "unnecessary" crowds in the capital region.

"'Yung iniiwasan natin dito 'yung namamasyal lang eh. 'Yung walang business na seryoso sa Maynila," Garcia said in an interview with The Source.

[Translation: What we're avoiding here are those who are just traveling, roaming around. Those who don't have any serious business in Manila.]

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, however, said the task force has yet to iron out the details and specific protocol for the directive, but said checkpoints will likely be set up in various borders throughout the metro area.

A group of executives handling human resources said they still face a problem in dealing with the so-called lockdown, saying there were “no clear directives” yet from the government.

“The primary duty of every member of our association is to make sure that their employees have their IDs to identify their point of origin and that they are representing one company that is located in Metro Manila,” Louisa Echevarria, president of the People Management Association of the Philippines, told CNN Philippines’ Business Roundup.

She said a lot of workers actually come from Bulacan, Cavite and even Pampanga. Echevarria added that those employed under manufacturing, retail, services, and healthcare sectors still have to show up for work, as their jobs cannot be carried out via teleconferences or e-mails from home.

Coping mechanism: Live in Manila?

Filipinos who live in nearby provinces were meanwhile urged to look for temporary boarding homes in the metro, to limit the movement of people in the city.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said moving to Manila can be one "coping mechanism" for those who ply expressways for work every day.

"I'm sure 'yung mga ibang kompanya will just encourage their people, their employees to find a place muna dito sa Metro Manila," Lopez said in a briefing in Malacanang. "Umupa muna sila, para less ang movement ng mga tao. Sa ganoong paraan din, malilimitahan ang pasok-labas ng mga tao."

[Translation: I'm sure other companies will just encourage their people, their employees to temporarily find a place here in Metro Manila. Just find a boarding house, so that there will be less people movement. With this way, we will be able to limit the exit and entry of people.]

Metro Manila, the country's economic and political center, is bracing for a "community quarantine" starting Sunday, after health authorities raised the the highest COVID-19 alert in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte, upon the government task force's recommendation, announced that people living in Metro Manila would not be allowed in and out of the region by land, domestic air and local sea travel from midnight of March 15 until April 14.

MMDA, however, clarified that the proposed "lockdown" only meant to "slow down" the movement in the metro.

"Actually, the term that they wanted to use was to slow down, slow down 'yung movement sa [the movement in] Metro Manila. But you're allowed to go out... We should not be very literal about this," Garcia said.

Año, for his part, said Manila will implement a "modified" model of a lockdown, as residents will not be forced to be quarantined in their homes.

"Kanya-kanyang level ito. Dito sa Metro Manila, in and out, modified 'yung ginagawa natin. Meron pa ring pwedeng makapasok. 'Yun mga non-essentials, hindi na natin papayagan," the Interior chief said.

[Translation: Lockdowns are implemented on different levels. Here in Metro Manila, in and out, we'll have a modified one. We will still restrict entry, the non-essentials will not be allowed.]

Other exemptions

Apart from the working sector, also exempted from the travel order are food and goods shipments, and medicine supplies, Nograles added. Government workers with business trips and official duties will also be considered entry, he noted.

Despite the order, Nograles said provincial buses will also still be allowed to enter Metro Manila, pending official protocol.

The Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines said it is still awaiting the task force's final guidelines on the travel order before implementing changes in its operations. The group, however, assured commuter bus personnel have been following safety protocol measures, and also urged its partners to avoid overcrowding (standing) in the vehicles.

COVID-19, now considered by WHO as a pandemic, has infected more than 128,000 people in 116 different countries and territories including China. Over 4,700 persons have been killed by the disease as of Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University's global tracker.

Here in the country, 52 confirmed cases of the infectious disease have been recorded, including five casualties.