Thousands of people stranded in Manila due to the COVID-19 lockdown were crammed into the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex since Friday, breaking social distancing rules while waiting for a government transportation program to bring them to their respective provinces.
More than 8,000 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) had availed of the government’s “Hatid Tulong” program that offers to help those who had lost their jobs in Manila return to their homes. Under the program, the stranded individuals were instructed to go to the stadium to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding the provided trips.
However, due to the volume of people inside, social distancing was physically impossible, putting the stranded individuals at greater risk of being infected with COVID-19. The ramps and stairs of the stadium were also crowded. With no proper announcement system being implemented, passengers would constantly go out to check if their buses have arrived.
Some of the LSIs slept on the streets to avoid the risk of being infected in the overcrowded stadium. Around 8 PM on Saturday, the Rizal Memorial stadium refused to accept more stranded individuals due to the number of people already inside. Police personnel were deployed in the area to enforce social distancing and health protocols.
Hatid Tulong Program head Joseph Encabo asked for the people’s understanding after photos of the situation in the Rizal Memorial stadium went viral, saying that the LSIs were found in an even worse situation before the government had assisted them.
“Noong mga nakaraang araw, lahat ng mga taong ‘iyon ay nasa kalsada…Kung nag-violate man po kami sa issue ng social distancing ay kailangan rin natin ipakita ang simpatya, pag-unawa at pag-aruga sa ating mga kababayan,” Elcabo said.
Officials were also unable to anticipate the overflow of stranded individuals in the stadium, as they had prepared for only 7,500 to arrive, but received an additional 2,000 people who were not yet scheduled to travel.
According to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Friday, the government was set to transport home a total of 8,408 individuals on July 25 and 26. The stranded individuals were to board 120 buses and five sea vessels. [P]
Photo credits to Inquirer.net