Social distancing measures of some shopping malls in the country’s busiest cities were tested over the weekend following the easing of travel restrictions provided by the modified enhanced community quarantine.
The new directive allowed some non-leisure industries such as retail and manufacturing activities to resume in areas still considered at high risk of novel coronavirus transmissions:
- National Capital Region
- Nueva Ecija
- Angeles City
These include the partial reopening of shopping malls or operations at 50% capacity with implementation of strict health policies to prevent the spread of the virus which causes COVID-19 within their premises.
The areas under ECQ and the MECQ are scheduled to transition to the general community quarantine version as the rest of the country on May 31, depending on the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ (IATF-EID) assessment.
During the first day of the eased restrictions on May 16, photos and videos of traffic congestion along EDSA and crowded malls surfaced on social media and subsequently drew public criticism and alarm.
Some photos which made rounds on Twitter and Facebook were captured in SM North Edsa by Facebook user Mark Samson.
Another Facebook user Edward Urbina shared long lines of people in SM City San Lazaro.
First day of MECQ dami tao sa mall…mukhang namiss lahat lumabas…lahat ng shops may pila since bawal ang madaming tao…
TV host Gretchen Ho also retweeted a post from ABS-CBN showing photos of a crowded grocery in Pasay City.
“Good luck, Pilipinas,” she said.
Good luck, Pilipinas https://t.co/8p7X8RGce7
— Gretchen Ho (@gretchenho) May 16, 2020
Despite this, some malls were still reported to follow strict implementation of social distancing measures.
It’s the first day of MECQ in Metro Manila. As some non-leisure shops are now allowed to reopen, this mall in Eastwood City, Quezon City implements strict procedures against the spread of #COVID19. @ABSCBNNews pic.twitter.com/P1OYBZJsLY
— Bianca Dava 🐈 (@biancadava) May 16, 2020
Some users, meanwhile, noted that only private vehicles caused the traffic congestion along EDSA on the first day of MECQ.
“This traffic for example, sabi nila street vendors ang dahilan ng traffic, sabi nila public vehicles ang cause ng traffic, heck they even blame it on rallies, but, look at all these private vehicles causing traffic all alone,” @AlbieRebalde said.
This pandemic really exposed the privileged ano? This traffic for example, sabi nila street vendors ang dahilan ng traffic, sabi nila public vehicles ang cause ng traffic, heck they even blame it on rallies, but, look at all these private vehicles causing traffic all alone. pic.twitter.com/hVcDtifu1n
— Mx. Albie Rebalde (@AlbieRebalde) May 16, 2020
Others argued that road traffic only got heavy because of the checkpoints along the borders of the cities.
Under MECQ, the general rule still applies that Filipinos should only go outside for essential goods and services and not for leisure.
Those going outside should also conform to the minimum public health standards against COVID-19, such as wearing masks and frequent sanitation.
Moreover, all types of public transportation remain banned. Only private vehicles are allowed with limited passengers.
Warning against shoppers and mall owners
When photos and videos of crowded shopping centers reached the government, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque reminded the public on the importance of observing the preventive measures against COVID-19.
Roque, in turn, also warned malls might be closed against if they do not enforce these measures to the mall-goers.
“We advise the public not to be complacent and to follow health protocols set by authorities after we received reports of people who trooped to the malls with complete disregard of social/physical distancing measures,” Roque said.
SM Supermalls, Robinson’s Malls and Megaworld Lifestyle Malls issued statements last week that protocols such as temperature screening, disinfection and visual cues for social distancing have already been prepared within their establishments before the partial reopening.
Mall employees and store personnel are also required to wear face masks all the time and also comply with strict social distancing procedures.
The malls also provided alcohol and hand sanitizers for shoppers and all employees.
In his Monday press briefing, Roque stressed the need to follow social distancing measures, citing that COVID-19 cases may continue to spike in numbers if the public refuses to adhere these measures.
“Kung talagang tayo ay nagmamatigas ng ulo binabalewala natin ang mga ginagawa natin ngauong mga nakalipas na buwan, ang tanong, kakayanin ba natin kung napakadami sa atin ang magkakasakit? Totoo po, nananakot kami,” he said, adding that there are only limited hospital beds to accommodate COVID-19 patients.
Malls outside MECQ
Some areas covered by GCQ, wherein limited types of public transportation are allowed, are faring better in complying with physical distancing procedures, based on photos shared online.
The local publication Iloilo Today shared photos on Facebook that showed how social distancing was observed through visual cues in SM City Iloilo.
“The mall also levels up its safety and sanitation measures such as continuous sanitation, requiring face masks and temperature checks for guests, and other efforts that prioritize shoppers’ safety amidst COVID-19 pandemic,” the caption read.
LOOK: SM City Iloilo mall-goers complied with social distancing policy while shopping on the first day of GCQ in the…
A Twitter user also shared a photo at an empty part of an open mall in Bukidnon.
Took a photo of Robinsons in Bukidnon. W're on GCQ but halos walang tao sa mall😅 pic.twitter.com/kONmy4Ffnj
— Ace Bene Cardeño (@blueheaven_ace) May 16, 2020