Health workers walk to work, sleep in clinics as quarantine halts transportation

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Health workers walk to work, sleep in clinics as quarantine halts transportation
Commuters wait for public utility vehicles in Pasay City and Parañaque City on March 16, Monday, the first day of work, since the implementation of community quarantine in Metro Manila.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Paullete Lomongo, a nurse at a dialysis center, started her 16-hour duty on Tuesday by walking 40 minutes from her home in Antipolo to the medical facility in Marikina City where she works.

“Wala po transpo like jeep or taxi so naglakad po kami papuntang work,” Lomongo said in a message to Philstar.com. She left home at 5 a.m. to make it to her shift that starts at 6 a.m. and will end at 10 p.m.

(There were no means of transportation like jeepneys and taxis so we walked forty minutes to work.)

According to President Rodrigo Duterte's address on Monday night and a clarificatory briefing by Cabinet members after, the enhanced community quarantine across Luzon will mean, among other measures, a total suspension of mass transportation until April.

Trains have stopped running, and jeepneys, taxis and even ride-hailing applications are suspended.

This is the latest among government measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease that affected 142 Filipinos and killed 12.

FOLLOW: LIVE updates: COVID-19 in the Philippines and the Luzon quarantine

“Essential workers,” including health professionals, may still report to work and people can also still go out to buy basic necessities, but, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles stressed on Monday: “The idea here is to keep everybody on home quarantine.”

If people need to get to work or buy supplies, he said: “If there is no there is no public transport, then private [vehicles] or you’ll have to walk.”

Heading to work? You can drive or walk

But Marc Joseph Ganio, a 28-year-old nurse, works in a clinic in Makati City and lives in a dormitory in Manila.

“Mga ka-work ko lang na may private vehicle ang nakakapasok, pero as advised kagabi, late at night, those who can lang ang ine-encourage nila. Pag hindi, okay lang na hindi pumasok. Since wala akong sasakyan, I decided na mag-stay na lang muna,” Ganio tells Philstar.com in an online exchange.

(My colleagues who have private vehicles are able to go to work. As advised late last night, those who can are encouraged to go to work. If not, it is okay to miss work. But since I don’t own a vehicle, I decided to just stay [at the clinic].)

Ganio said he is still unsure how he can go home since he takes the trains or books rides on mobile hailing applications.

“Isa din ako sa mga umaasa sa public transportation system,” he said.

(I am one of those dependent on the public transportation system)

During Tuesday’s Laging Handa briefing at the Palace, Transport Undersecretary Raul del Rosario that it would be better if companies will arrange transport services for their staff.

“We can arrange it that they will be given permits or stickers saying that they are essential workers,” he explained in Filipino.

The transport official stressed that the government encourages that offices only operate on skeletal workforces.

READ: Told to stay home, Filipino poor go out to work absent government aid

Up to LGUs to ferry workers

Nograles also said local government units will coordinate on transportation for “essential workers.”

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto admitted that using private vehicles is “NOT enough,” and has allowed tricycles to operate within the city, pending guidelines.

“Our risk assessment shows that we can’t ban tricycles at this point. Health workers need to get to work. Some emergencies can only be reached by [tricycle],” he added.

For Manila City health workers, Manila City Government Public Information Office chief Julius Leonen quoted Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan as saying that “councilors have been instructed to lend their e-trikes to the city’s district hospitals.

Lacuna added that the city government is loking places where the health workers may temporarily stay that are near the hospitals they are working in.

Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla meanwhile said the provincial government is dispatching public utility buses to transport stranded passengers. He added he will meet with the provincial commander of the Philippine National Police “to have a ‘modified’ transport scheme within Cavite’s jurisdiction.”

Meanwhile volunteer group RockEd is making ways to help health workers. They are calling for volunteer drivers to help ferry health professionals from different points of Metro Manila to the Philippine General Hospital.

Going ‘home’

The situation is more difficult for Paullyn Nicolai Labad, a 23-year-old medical laboratory scientist, who said her company cannot provide a shuttle service from her residence in Cavite to work in Makati City.

“We reside in Cavite, no means of [transportation] at all at this point,” she told Philstar.com in an online exchange. Labad works in a diagnostics hospital that receives test samples from hospital and clinics.

Labad said her employer cannot provide lodging—an idea floated by Interior and Local Government chief Eduardo Año for Business Process Outsourcing employees who may continue to work—either.

“We can’t afford to go home to our respective homes knowing that every day we handle infectious specimens,” she said.

“We’re really just waiting for an advisory both from the local government and the company that we work for, what will be their course of action for the situation of health employees,” Labad added.

Meanwhile, Cristian Romero, a 32-year-old technician at a dialysis center in Marikina City will not be returning to his rented apartment in Cogeo, Rizal.

Going to work, he took a cab at 4 a.m. from Cogeo to the dialysis center where Lomongo also works. He had to walk the rest of the way because the taxi was not allowed through a checkpoint along Marcos Highway.

"Dito po kami pinatulog sa dialysis center na pinagwowork-an namin kasi po hirap na po makauwi kasi po may curfew na rin po," he said in a text message to Philstar.com.

(They told us to sleep here at the dialysis center where we work because going home is difficult due to the curfew)

The Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease is in another meeting Tuesday afternoon to iron out and clarify other guidelines of the Luzon lockdown.

Military trucks, private buses

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government will roll out military trucks to ferry those who are stranded, while the Metro Manila Development Authority said different bus companies, especially Wescapboa, a transport cooperative, and the West Cavite Philippine Bus Operators Association, as well as the Jasper Jean Bus Liner will also send out their buses to help.

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