MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine taxi dispatcher Meliza Venal heaved a sigh of relief when she learned that hundreds of her company’s drivers can finally go back to work after being stuck in their homes for 11 weeks.
But she’s worried about venturing out when some transport services resume in the capital Manila from Monday, and feels the threat of the new coronavirus still lingers.
The Philippines saw its highest daily spike in coronavirus cases on Thursday, but that didn’t stop President Rodrigo Duterte from easing one of the world’s toughest and longest lockdowns.
“I’m still nervous because the virus is still out there but glad that the taxi drivers and I can go back to work,” she said.
Those drivers will now be separated from passengers by a plastic barrier and sanitizers and disinfectants will also be provided to them, she said.
Though taxis, trains, buses and ride hailing services are allowed to reopen, the country’s iconic jeepneys – the crowded and colourful budget passenger trucks – must remain off the road.
Their drivers are dismayed.
“It is difficult and painful not knowing when we can go back to work,” said Jude Recio, a Manila jeepney driver.
“Trying to take care of ourselves is difficult enough and we still have our children to feed.”
A typical jeepney crams in 10 to 16 commuters sitting knee-to-knee on twin benches, making it difficult to enforce social distancing measures.
Under the relaxed rules in place for the next two 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.
The easing could help restore much-needed activity in an economy facing its deepest contraction in 34 years as the pandemic-induced lockdown shuttered businesses and sapped domestic demand.
(Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)