'I might bring it home': Virus anxiety as Filipinos go back to work

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 01 2020 06:20 AM

Passengers queue for temperature check at a checkpoint in Susana Heights exit of the South Luzon Expressway on March 16, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- Carla Geronimo emerged from one of the world's longest pandemic lockdowns on Monday, fearful like many others that she would bring home the coronavirus at the end of the workday.

Face masks are mandatory and rapid tests are not unusual as Metro Manila, home to 10 million people, returns to work and revives commerce, albeit at a limited capacity after nearly 80 days.

Without a vaccine to fight the invisible enemy, Geronimo and throngs of commuters will need to endure long lines and health checks and keep at a safe distance from others.

“Baka mauwi ko sa bahay. Takot ako for my family, hindi para sakin. May bata pa,” Geronimo, who has a 3-year-old nephew, told ABS-CBN News.

(I might bring it home. I’m scared for my family, not myself. We have a child at home.)

Filipinos will return to very different work places from Monday, with floor markings and plastic curtains to avoid the spread of respiratory droplets that carry the virus.

Commuting will also be altered. Plastic shields now separate drivers from passengers and bus and train passengers will be spaced one seat apart. Cashless payments are encouraged.

WORKERS AT RISK

Anne, a hospital worker in Quezon City, fears the same. She asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the press.

"You’ll never be sure of your surroundings. You may be a carrier already and you don’t know. I fear that I might expose my family to the disease," she said.

Gabbie Vilda, a bank teller, told ABS-CBN News that people who don't observe health protocols put others at risk.

"I feel anxious going to work," she said. "Kahit gaano ka kaingat for yourself if there are people who lack discipline or can't follow protocols, hawa-hawa na yan."

(No matter how much you take care of yourself, if there are people who lack discipline or can't follow protocols, it will lead to infection.)

Majority or 65 percent of jobs essential to sustaining the economy have a high chance of spreading the virus, according to a University of the Philippines study.

These include health workers and those in the food, agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors that "require close or regular interaction with people."

The Department of Health released guidelines that require regular disinfection of workplaces, daily monitoring of workers’ temperatures and symptoms and the adoption of alternative working arrangements among others.

Vilda’s employer implements a skeletal workforce, with half working from their homes. The firm provided face masks, alcohol, and hazard pay for those working on location, she said.

Geronimo said her employer, the Department of Public Works and Highways, required all workers to undergo rapid test for the coronavirus. The agency also distributed face masks and installed disinfection mats and sanitizers, she said.

These measures are “enough” if followed and maintained, she said.

“Or limitahan ang pagikot sa mga sites which is ‘di maiiwasan kasi inspector kami ng projects,” she said, adding that she wears a face mask and frequently washes her hands as precaution.

(Or limit going around sites, which can’t be helped because we inspect projects.)

Commuters wait southbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Monday, the 1st work day in Metro Manila after the imposition of a "community quarantine." March 16, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

RUSH HOUR RETURNS

Aside from fear of carrying the virus home, Geronimo also dreads the heavy traffic on Monday due to lack of public transport.

She said she was used to availing ride-hailing services such as Angkas and Grab to get to their office in Quezon City before the pandemic hit, but now she can only rely on the family car or the office shuttle.

Anne, the hospital worker who lives in Bulacan, said she would wake up before 5 a.m. Monday to make it to work on time.

“I also feel for those who have no choice but to endure the long hours of waiting in line to get a ride,” she said.

Some 90 buses will be deployed along EDSA, with pick-up and drop-off points in North Avenue and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, Taft Avenue in Manila, and Ayala in Makati, authorities said.

The pandemic has displaced some 2.5 million workers temporarily or permanently, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said. Up to 10 million workers could lose their jobs, he added.

Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of gross domestic product, and southern urban hub Davao City eased its 2-month strict lockdown mid-May to reboot the shrinking economy. 

Cebu City remained under enhanced community quarantine but will also shift into GCQ Monday.