MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Metro Manila on Monday further eased its coronavirus lockdown, with mask-wearing workers returning to their jobs on board trains that carried only about a tenth of their capacity, long lines for buses, and iconic jeepneys still barred from roads.
Along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, some commuters who left their homes at 4 a.m. were still waiting 2 hours later for buses, only 300 of which were allowed to ply the roads on the first day of the region's general community quarantine or GCQ.
This forced some commuters like security guard Nelson Motos to walk from Commonwealth to JP Rizal Avenue in Makati.
"Takot talaga pero wala magagawa. Kailangan kumayod," he told ABS-CBN News.
(I'm really scared, but there's no choice. I have to earn.)
"Lucy", a janitor who also works in Makati, said she would take a taxi instead of running late for work, the first time she would go to her office since Metro Manila was locked down on March 16.
"Walang magagawa. Tiis na lang kasi kung di lalabas eh gugutumin kami," she said.
(We can't do anything but endure because we'll go hungry if we don't go out.)
President Rodrigo Duterte pushed through with easing one of the world's toughest and longest lockdowns, despite the highest daily spike in coronavirus cases logged on Thursday.
Trains, point-to-point buses, taxis, almost 26,000 ride-hailing cars, shuttle services and bicycles will be allowed to operate on a limited capacity from June 1 to 21, the first phase of public transport resumption, authorities said.
Tricycles will be allowed subject to the approval of local government units while provincial buses are still barred from entering Metro Manila, the Department of Transportation said.
For the second phase that will run from June 22 to June 30, public utility buses, modern jeepneys and UV express vans will be allowed to operate, the agency said.
Public transport could be a weak spot of the relaxed quarantine "because people are in an enclosed space," said Dr. Edsel Salvana, a clinical associate professor at the Philippine General Hospital.
"It is potentially dangerous but it can be mitigated by capacity controls and masks, physical distance, handwashing, disinfection. Also, contactless payment and better ventilation can help," he told ABS-CBN News.
At the MRT-3, the capital's busiest railway, trains that can ferry 1,200 people will only carry 153 passengers or about 13 percent of its capacity, said authorities.
Passengers had their temperatures checked and were told to stay one meter apart as MRT operations resumed at 5:30 a.m. Trains will be regularly disinfected and run faster at 40 kph, from the previous 30 kph, said the transportation department.
A plastic barrier separated passengers from drivers of buses and taxis.
Protocols for public transit also included the mandatory wearing of face masks, use of cashless payments, availability of alcohol and sanitizers in PUVs, disinfection facilities in terminals, and contact tracing, the transportation department earlier said.
Random checkpoints will inspect private cars that should carry a maximum of 4 people, said Joint Task Force COVID Shield Commander police Lt.Gen. Guillermo Eleazar.
Motorcycle backrides are still barred, even for couples and policemen, he told DZMM.
END OF JEEPNEYS?
Authorities are still discussing rules for jeepneys that typically cram in 10 to 16 commuters sitting knee-to-knee on twin benches that make it difficult to enforce social distancing measures, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Thursday.
"Baka nga ang mangyayari d'yan, later on iyong mga jeepney natin magiging mga delivery vehicles na lang. Ang iba ay dadalhin sa probinsya," he added.
(Perhaps, later on our jeepneys will just serve as delivery vehicles, some will be brought to the provinces.)
Some drivers are dismayed. "It is difficult and painful not knowing when we can go back to work," said Jude Recio, a Manila jeepney driver.
Jeepney group PISTON's national president emeritus George San Mateo said the government had yet to reply to his inquiry on whether passengers are safe from the virus inside closed, air-conditioned vehicles.
"Kung 'yang mga 'yan pinayagan ng gobyerno na pumasada eh mas dapat lalong payagan magbalik-pasada ang mga orig at traditional jeepneys dahil mas ligtas ang pasahero sa jeepneys dahil ito ay open at malayang nakakadaloy ang hangin," he said in a statement.
(If those vehicles were allowed by the government, it should also allow original and traditional jeepneys that are safer for passengers because these are open and the air can flow freely.)
"Maawa naman at magkaroon sana ng konsensya gobyerno sa daan daang libong jeepney drivers at maliliit na operators na lagpas 2 buwan na walang hanapbuhay at wala din natanggap na social amelioration subsidy mula sa gobyerno," he added.
(I hope the government will pity the hundreds of thousands of jeepney drivers and small-time operators who have not earned in the past 2 months and did not receive social amelioration subsidy from the government.)
Under the GCQ in place for the next 2 weeks, workplaces and shops will reopen and movement in and out of Manila will be permitted, provided that people wear masks and observe social distancing.
"Tayo po ay nasa sitwasyon na nasa abnormal times pa rin... Let us all work together para maiwasan natin ang next wave [ng infection] so we can now transition to the new normal," said the national police's Eleazar.
(We are still under abnormal times. Let us all work together to prevent the next wave of infection so we can now transition to the new normal.)
With reports from Adrian Portugal, Reuters; Anjo Bagaoisan, Jervis Manahan, Lyza Aquino and Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News