Ruling out any chance of riskPhilippines goes above and beyond to curb spread of virus

  • AseanPlus News
  • Sunday, 24 May 2020

Extra precaution: A security guard watching a shopper exiting from a disinfection chamber installed at the entrance of a shopping mall as a preventive measure against Covid-19 in Manila. — AFP

BUS and jeepney drivers compiling a “passenger manifest”. Malls issuing time cards to shoppers to limit their stay to just an hour. Churches collecting not just tithes, but also the names and contact numbers of those attending mass.

These are just some of the unorthodox steps the Philippines is taking as it begins to relax some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in South-East Asia.

The government this week allowed a host of companies to reopen, but with only half their usual workforce. Malls have also reopened, but most of their retail stores remain closed.

Photos showing crowds milling inside one of the largest malls set off alarms. The images later turned out to be fake news but Governor Jonvic Remulla of Cavite, a big province south of Manila, shut down all the malls again.

He later allowed the malls to reopen, but decreed that all mall goers should be issued time cards to limit their stay to just an hour.

Safety marshals were instructed to check these time cards.

Those buying groceries were allowed to finish their chores, their “conscience” their only time limit, the governor said.

However, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said he inspected some malls, and saw that most just had 20% of their usual foot traffic.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Benedicto Yujuico said some retailers told him it was not worth reopening.

Even food outlets complained that they were still struggling.

A supervisor at a Starbucks store said that sales were down to just 20% of his outlet’s usual income before the lockdown.

Restaurants say 70% of their revenue comes from dine-ins.

Those doing brisk business were tools shops, do-it-yourself stores and gadget repair kiosks.

“People broke a lot of things during the lockdown, ” said a clerk at a kiosk that sells mobile phone peripherals.

The government has also allowed public transport in places outside Metro Manila, where the lockdown has been downgraded to a “general community quarantine”.

But regulators require drivers of buses, jeepneys and taxis to list the names and contact numbers of all passengers, and to make sure they are spaced apart when seated.

Churches, meanwhile, are preparing to reopen their doors, with a slew of health precautions.

Father Mhel Dacillo said Baclaran church, one of the largest in the country, may allow just 70 people to attend masses, even though it can take in as much as 7,000.

Churches are planning to install security cameras, and encouraging families and friends to sit in clusters, so it will be easy later should the need for contact tracing arise.

Metro Manila, which spans 16 cities and is home to more than 13 million people, has been on lockdown for over two months. — The Straits Times/ANN

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