Thousands lumped into Manila baseball venue

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Thousands of Filipinos were crammed into a baseball stadium – Rizal Memorial Sports Complex – in Manila (Philippines) recently despite COVID-19 threat looming large. Social distancing rules went for a six after people wanting to return to their home provinces flooded a Government transportation program.

Officials had reserved the stadium as a place to test people who were given the pink slips before transporting them back to their home provinces elsewhere in Philippines.

Officials were readying to receive 7,500 people at the stadium but were caught unawares when an additional 2,000 turned up.

“Because of the overflowing number of people, we can no longer control (the situation) and the relevance of social distancing had been diminished,” Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo, who is overseeing the Government’s transportation assistance program, told mediapersons.

The cops were called in to ensure social distancing, but people, including the elderly, children and pregnant women, were in close proximity with each other with some not even donning masks.

Many of those at the venue had got stuck in Philippines capital Manila when it imposed one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in mid-March due to the global outbreak of coronavirus which has taken a huge toll on lives worldwide and the deadly virus’s scathing attack continues.

Lockdown was eased in the beginning of June, allowing businesses to reopen in a limited capacity, but schools remain shut and mass gatherings are banned. Wearing of masks has been made mandatory in public places and one-meter social distancing should be observed strictly. The children and the elderly have been urged to stay at home.

Coronavirus cases have more than quadrupled in Philippines since restrictions were eased to 78,412, with more than half of those cases accounting for in the capital and the areas in and around Manila.

Among those at the arena was 40-year-old Fred Marick Ukol, 40, who got stuck in Manila after his flight to Australia, where he had found work as a welder, was canceled.

“We don’t have work and now all of our savings have dried up because of the lockdown,” Ukol lamented, referring to himself and fellow overseas Filipino workers.

Encabo said everybody at the stadium would have to undergo rapid testing for COVID-19 and must test negative before they are allowed to board the buses, sea vessels, and trains the Government has arranged.

The stranded Filipinos were seen resting on the bleachers of the baseball stadium. They were all set to go home with their documents, including their negative result from a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RP-PCR) test, which is the gold standard for COVID-19 detection.

Seething in fury, 20-year-old James Roy Dusaban from Dumangas town of Philippines said from the Port of Manila, they were told to go to the stadium, where they have been for over a day – “We are being made to go around in circles.”

Despite this negative result, Dusaban said they were getting more frustrated as they still have to undergo rapid test, and the process was too time-consuming.

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