Employees in modified ECQ areas struggle to get to work

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 17) — Millions of employees began returning to work on Monday, two months after COVID-19 quarantine restrictions forced nonessential businesses to stop operations.

As workers go back to work, they not only have to protect themselves from the invisible threat of the coronavirus disease, they also have to face another grueling challenge: How to get to their workplaces when all public transportation remain closed.

Workers in Metro Manila, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales, Angeles City, and Laguna from select nonessential sectors are allowed to physically report back to their jobs after their areas transitioned from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to a looser modified ECQ on May 16.

Several sectors were allowed to partially operate in MECQ areas to restart the country's economy. However, public transportation is prohibited from operating. The national government told employees to use private cars, motorcycles, or bicycles. Companies were also urged to provide transportation services to their employees.

Mall employee Erickson Diego was spotted along Marcos Highway, which connects residents from Rizal to Metro Manila, early Monday morning. He said he was walking from his home to Robinsons Galleria in Quezon City.

Workers were also seen awaiting rides along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Meanwhile, employees with their own cars or motorcycles have to endure traffic jams and checkpoints.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque previously said companies should remain closed if they could not offer shuttle services to safely ferry their employees.

There is no requirement for all returning employees to undergo COVID-19 testing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Sunday. She said this is among the decisions of the national task force.

"We have emphasized that symptomatic screening is ideal, and test only when symptomatic. IATF resolution stated that in no case shall testing be a condition for return to work," she said in a Viber message to reporters.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said testing employees reporting back to work is important because they may be silently carrying the virus. 

"We need to test workers returning to work. This needs to be arranged by employers & DOH. Marami sa mga kaso walang sintomas. We cannot afford a second wave," she said on Monday.

The government is looking to jump-start the economy after a two-month lull. Overall economic output is expected to shrink by at least 2 percent this year, with the pandemic seen to have cost about ₱2 trillion in lost opportunities.