Workers brave Metro Manila roads as PH relaxes COVID-19 lockdown rules

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 1) — Thousands of workers required to report back to their workplaces braved the threat of COVID-19 as Metro Manila transitioned to a more relaxed general community quarantine on Monday.

Restrictions were eased in the country's capital region after nearly 80 days of strict stay-at-home measures — one of the longest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world — by reopening more nonessential businesses in the hopes of restarting the country's economy.

Workers struggled to commute to their offices even as public transportation was allowed to partially resume after months of closure. Commuters endured long lines and extended waiting time just to be able to get a ride.

"Sabi nila maraming masasakyan. May P2P, may modified jeep na masasakyan, hanggang ngayon ang mga tao nakapila," Igmedio Duloroc, a commuter along Litex Road, complained.

[Translation: They said there would be a lot of rides. There would be P2P buses, modern jeepneys, but until now people are queueing.]

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the national government did not promise it can provide rides for all workers, but at the same time, sought for more understanding from the public.

"Nakikiusap kami at nagsusumamo sa inyo na bigyan niyo kami ng pasensiya at understanding... Wala kaming pinangako o sinabi na ang transportasyon ay magiging extensive and will meet the requirements of all on the first day of GCQ — and even in the duration of the GCQ for that matter. Because as I’ve said, our approach is partial, limited, calculated, and gradual." he told CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: We are asking for your patience and understanding. We did not promise that we can provide the enough and extensive transportation during the first day of GCQ or even in the duration of GCQ.]

Jeepneys — a main mode of transportation for many Filipinos due to its affordability and accessibility — remain off the roads. Public utility buses and UV Express vehicles are still not allowed in the first few weeks of transition to GCQ.

More LRT and MRT-3 train sets are running, but they are only using 10-percent to 12-percent of their regular capacity. From the 1,000 passengers it used to accommodate per trip, now only 100 passengers are allowed inside the coaches to ensure physical distancing measures are enforced. Temperature checks are conducted before passengers can enter the stations. PNR can only accommodate 35 percent of its normal capacity.

Around 90 buses for MRT augmentation will only have four pick-up and drop off points along EDSA starting Monday, namely North Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Ayala Avenue, and Taft Avenue.

Taxis and point-to-point or P2P buses are allowed under certain conditions, while tricycle operations will be subject to the approval of the local government unit. Back-riding, also known as pillion riding, in motorcycles will remain prohibited.

GrabCar was also allowed to resume operation, but several commuters complained their locations remain unreached by the transport service.

Metro Manila roads were again choked with traffic, as many people returned to work after being restricted to their homes since the quarantine period imposed in mid-March. The number coding scheme remains lifted until June 5.

Authorities are implementing checkpoints, curfew, travel restrictions, strict checking physical distancing, and minimum health standards across the region and all over the country.

Filipinos not required to go to their workplaces are reminded to head out only for essential travel, such as buying food and medicine and attending to important matters.

As of May 30, COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila have reached 10,870, with 2,793 recoveries, and 709 deaths.

Professor Guido David of the University of the Philippines Institute of Mathematics told CNN Philippines on Sunday that the coronavirus curve in the capital region still hasn’t flattened, and that a rise in daily confirmed infections is to be expected under GCQ.

“Sa GCQ, we expect na mag-iincrease pa rin [yung number of cases] kasi hindi madaling ma-contain yung pandemic pag na-increase yung mobility.”

[Translation: Under GCQ, we expect a continued increase because the pandemic will be difficult to contain when mobility also increases.]

Some senators have also shared their concern towards such move given that the country’s testing capacity is still not enough in the scenario that more cases will be recorded after the transition.

As of May 31, the country recorded 18,086 COVID-19 cases with 3,909 recoveries and 957 deaths.