Broke and helpless in Manila

  • Philippines
  • Thursday, 06 Aug 2020

Broke and jobless, Ruel Damaso is sleeping on cardboard and surviving on food handouts at Manila airport where dozens were left stranded after a partial coronavirus lockdown was reimposed recently.

More than 27 million people in the capital and four surrounding provinces were given 24-hours notice of the new restrictions that have shut many businesses, halted public transport and grounded flights as the government struggled against a Covid-19 surge.

Struggling to survive on part-time factory work after the first lockdown in March crippled the economy and stripped millions of their jobs, Damaso had decided to leave Manila.

With nowhere else to stay, he arrived at the airport on Saturday with two former colleagues and was supposed to fly home Tuesday to the southern city of Zamboanga.

Now, he is stuck at the terminal, where staff wearing white protective suits, face shields and masks deal with the stranded passengers.

“We’ve run out of money. We can’t leave the airport because we don’t have any relatives here, ” the 36-year-old said from inside the terminal, a towel wrapped around his shoulders for warmth in the freezing air conditioning.

“We will have to stay here for two weeks until our flights are back on.”

President Rodrigo Duterte reluctantly reimposed stay-at-home orders and other measures in response to a plea from overwhelmed health workers, who had warned that the country was losing the battle against the virus.

The number of cases in the Philippines has surged past 100,000 – a fivefold increase from June when the country emerged from one of the world’s longest lockdowns.

It is now reporting several thousand new cases every day – the 6,352 on Tuesday was a record-high.

The government has blamed people flouting virus protocols for the sharp increase in infections, which have been concentrated in Manila and the central city of Cebu.

In a bid to curb rampant local transmission, police have been deployed to force people who have tested positive for the virus and cannot self-isolate at home into government-run quarantine facilities.

Now, police are back on checkpoints to ensure only people with special travel passes to work or go shopping for essential items are moving around. — AFP

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