Public transport woes, spike in COVID-19 cases among mounting concerns as ECQ eases in high-risk areas

May 18, 2020 - 8:04 PM
Workers wearing protective masks stand by to hitch a ride as some industries resume operations with limited public transportation available, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 18, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Concerns on the absence of public transportation and the possible spike of novel coronavirus patients were expressed online amid the implementation of the modified enhanced community quarantine. 

The new directive which started last May 16 was placed in areas still considered at high risk of novel coronavirus transmission.  

These areas and those that remain under the enhanced community version are scheduled to transition to the general community quarantine as the rest of the country on May 31, depending on the assessment by the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases 

Based on the latest IATF resolution, the following places are placed under MECQ.  

  • National Capital Region
  • Laguna
  • Bataan
  • Bulacan
  • Nueva Ecija
  • Zambales
  • Pampanga
  • Angeles City

The MECQ rules stated that some non-leisure industries such as retail and manufacturing activities are allowed to resume. These include the partial reopening of the country’s largest shopping malls or operations at 50% capacity.  

However, all types of public transportation are still banned. Private vehicles are allowed but with limited passengers who shall be seated one meter apart from one another. 

As the national government tries to restart the Philippine economy amid the perceived slowdown of COVID-19 cases, Filipinos on social media questioned some of the MECQ guidelines which they believed to be unfair to Filipino workers. 

Concerns on lack of public transportation 

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez over the weekend expressed hope that workers and their employees may find a workable solution for the lack of public transportation as ordered by MECQ guidelines.  

“This will have to be settled within the company, between the employer and employee, to find ways that are workable. [It] could be near-site accommodations, carpooling, shuttling, vehicle plans, etc. Usually, they both find ways,” he said.

However, he issued a warning against workers who refused to work.  

“If an employee refuses to work, it doesn’t reflect well on his [or her] character.  [He or she] should have [a] positive mindset.  Otherwise, he [or she] also runs the risk of losing his [or her] job,” Lopez said. 

Some Filipinos perceived this comment unfair to workers, saying that being unable to work given the pandemic is not their fault.  

If a worker is unable to get to work, that is not a reflection of his or her character. That is a reflection of their economic status,” user @keithpaolo_ said 

Another Twitter user likewise noted that the absence of means to get to work does not reflect on a worker’s character.  

“If an employer lets go of an employee who can’t make it to work because there is literally no public transportation in the middle of a pandemic, it doesn’t fucking reflect well on his/her character,” the user said 

Activist Philip Jamilla, meanwhile, argued that the government may just be using the reopening of businesses without ramped up public health measures as an excuse to blame the public.  

“The government is lifting quarantine measures to “reopen” the economy because they’re already hurting the profits of corporations after wasting months without mass testing or adequate socioeconomic aid while cracking down on dissent and punishing the poor for their desperation,” he said 

On Monday, reports showed Filipino workers struggling to get to work in Metro Manila and other provinces covered by MECQ amdi the lack of public transportation.

Some Filipinos who came from the provinces started walking, bicycling or riding on motorcycles before sunrise to get to their workplaces in the country’s capital on time.  

Road traffic was also heavy as vehicles along the busy thoroughfares of EDSA and Marcos Highway got congested at the checkpoints where police officers and soldiers check to inspect their passes.  

Concerns on possible spike of COVID-19 cases 

With more Filipinos going outside despite the concerns on COVID-19 detection, some Filipinos also expressed fear on a possible surge of infected cases or the so-called second wave of the pandemic.  

Some, however, said that there would be “no second wave if the first one is not yet done.” 

A Twitter user also reminded that if the number of positive cases increases again, it should not be blamed on the public alone.  

Remember, folks: If the COVID cases in the Philippines explode during the MECQ, it’s not because of pasaway people. It’s because for two months we never had mass testing and contact tracing,” the online user said 

Meanwhile, satire Facebook page Pulpolitika shared a meme that likened the government’s response to the pandemic to the popular Greek Trojan War story.  

brace yourselves

Posted by PULPOLitika on Sunday, May 17, 2020


Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Sunday said employees will not be required to undergo COVID-19 tests.

“Our protocol is to guide employers. We have emphasized that symptomatic screening is ideal, and test only when symptomatic,” Vergeire was quoted as saying in a message to the press.

Independent trackers of COVID-19 cases in the country previously found discrepancies between their data and the ones members of the IATF presented to the media. 

READ: Are we flattening the curve? Independent COVID-19 trackers show different figures from IATF data

The sources of their data, however, came from the Department of Health’s official records.  

The University of the Philippines’ COVID-19 pandemic response team also previously discovered alarming errors and inconsistencies in DOH’s data collection of cases.  

The UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team believes that the availability of accurate, relevant, and timely data is a basic…

Posted by UP Resilience Institute on Monday, May 11, 2020

Leave mass testing up to the private sector  

In his virtual press briefing on Monday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the government has no plans on a large-scale detecting program similar to what was being done to Wuhan, China, considered as the epicenter of the new pathogen.  

“As much as possible, ini-increase natin ang capacity ng testing kaya nga we’re aiming na aabot tayo sa 30,000 (a day), pero in terms sa mass testing na ginagawa ng Wuhan na all 11 million (residents), wala pa pong ganyang programa at iniiwan natin ‘yan sa pribadong sektor,” Roque said. 

Calls for the government to ramp up its testing programs had been made since the enhanced community quarantine was imposed last March 17. 

The clamor to have more Filipinos tested continued despite reports of an increase of tests conducted for health workers and other frontliners. 

Vince Dizon, newly assigned deputy chief implementer of IATF, last week said that the government eyes to have a testing capacity of 30,000 per day.