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Gearing up to meet challenges posed by ‘new normal’

POVERTY AMID LOCKDOWN “Our drivers right noware going through a difficult time,” says Pasang Masda president Obet Martin. —GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

MANILA, Philippines — With the government slowly easing restrictions on businesses and industries to restart the economy after the over two-month lockdown in Metro Manila, the public is faced with the challenge of coping with an environment changed by the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“I have technically been jobless for more than two months. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel we can go back to the way it was before. Planning for something unfamiliar is hard,” said 41-year-old Sonny Badoria, who was forced by the lockdown to close his small barbershop in Pasay City.

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The past two months have been “very difficult” for Badoria and his three brothers. So far, local health authorities have yet to advise them what to do by June, when they expect to reopen their barbershop once the metropolis is placed under the more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ).

But the brothers already know more or less what to do.

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“There will be no more lines inside and outside the shop so we can practice physical distancing,” Badoria said as he remembered past Sundays before the lockdown when the shop was packed with customers.

Masks should be mandatory but he was afraid they would not be able to afford to buy a thermal scanner or even gloves.“Maybe we need to mark up our prices from P60 per haircut to P100. That’s the only way we can survive,” he said. “I don’t think customers will like it but I hope they will understand why we need to.”

Home service

To survive during the lockdown, Badoria would text his contacts to offer home service.

“I cannot just stop working, or we will die of hunger,” he said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, their barbershop earned up to P2,000 a day. During the lockdown, he was lucky if he managed to have up to four customers daily.

“Many are afraid to get haircuts because they may get the virus. I am also scared I may get COVID-19 from my work so I am being extra careful. I cannot afford to get sick,” Badoria said.

So aside from wearing a face mask, he would inquire from his contacts at the barangay, which had many confirmed COVID-19 cases, to find out which areas to avoid.

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He and his brothers consider themselves fortunate because their landlord deferred their rent and gave them food. “Otherwise, we could already be out in the streets, begging for scraps.”

However, if the situation does not get better next month, they will avail themselves of the government’s “Balik Probinsya” program to go home to Albay province.

“There are few opportunities back there but at least we can live even with barely anything,” Badoria said. “We will just die of hunger here in Metro Manila because we do not have money.”

‘We’re still waiting’

In Manila, while everyone else hunkered down in their homes during the lockdown, a group of jeepney drivers from Sta. Ana took to the streets to beg for help from motorists and passersby.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Eduardo Pelaez, chair of the Sta. Ana Transport Service Coop., as hunger proved stronger than the need to stay safe.

Up to now, their 1,000-strong group has yet to receive “even a single grain of rice,” or the promised subsidy from the national government.

Pelaez said this was probably due to the nature of their franchise. While their tricycle and pedicab counterparts enjoyed P5,000 in subsidies and relief goods from local governments that had supervision over them, they had to wait for the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to finish vetting its list of beneficiaries for the government’s subsidy program.

PREPARING FOR GENERAL QUARANTINE “With the new situation, we don’t expect any profit for the coming months,” says Dr. Eddie Concepcion, clinician and president of Oasis Acupuncture Clinic. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“It’s hard not to be demoralized when you feel abandoned,” Pelaez said. “There are many who fear we won’t receive aid after all, or that it will take longer to get back on the road.”

“Our drivers right now are going through a really difficult time,” said Obet Martin, chair of transport association Pasang Masda. “Everyone else seems to have gotten aid from the government but we’re still waiting.”

With 200 member-groups, Pasang Masda is one of the largest transport associations in the country. But of the 10,000 qualified beneficiaries Martin said he earlier submitted to the LTFRB, only 100 have so far received any aid from the government.

Passenger capacity

Even the resumption of operations anytime soon, he added, would not help them recover from the poverty they had plunged into in the last two months.

According to the Department of Transportation’s guidelines for the resumption of transport operations, all public utility vehicles must reduce their passenger capacity by half. This means a 20-seater jeep would seat only 10, or around 150 passengers for a whole-day trip, Martin said.

Factoring in fuel costs and boundary fees, a driver’s take-home pay would be slashed from around P500 to P600 to between P250 and P300.

Martin said he had talked to operators in his association about being more lenient about boundary fees as Metro Manila transitions to the GCQ.

Because Pasang Masda was among the first to comply with the government’s modernization program, they have a fleet of jeepneys capable of automated fare collection, allowing contact-free transactions.

However, they would still have to work out a solution for those driving traditional jeepneys—“maybe something like the way the Church collects donations during Mass,” Martin said.

Both Martin and Pelaez called on the government to expedite the release of subsidies for their members.

“We understand that the virus has affected almost all sectors and we’re not the only ones struggling. But please, do not forsake our drivers at this time,” Pelaez said.

Reopening

On Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, the staff of Oasis Acupuncture Clinic has just undergone training in preparation for their reopening.

Before the clinic announced in February that it would be closed indefinitely following the lockdown, the clinic accommodated at least 15 patients a day seeking treatment for pain, heart ailments and other illnesses.

Dr. Eddie Concepcion, who established the clinic in 1992, was program health coordinator for LIKAS-Center for Community Services, a nongovernmental organization of medical professionals providing crucial services to poor communities in the country.

The ancient Chinese healing method, often viewed as painful and dismissed as ineffective folk medicine, is a personal advocacy of Concepcion as it has proven effective in addressing patients’ concerns, particularly those with heart disease and other serious ailments. He went to China in 1988 to study advanced acupuncture.

Under the new normal, there will be changes in routines and procedures, both for clients and the clinic staff, Concepcion said.

Oasis will run an online triage system to classify the urgency of patients’ need for treatment before confirming their appointment. There will be a limit to the number of people allowed inside the clinic while exit and entry routes will be kept separate to minimize person-to-person contact.

“All patients will be treated as if they are immunocompromised. We hope to approximate the sterile environment of an operating room with an even better air exchange system,” Concepcion said.

The new circumstances made to contain the spread of COVID-19 will be a challenge for the acupuncturists in Oasis, as they alternate their time at a smaller clinic in Pasig.

“We have gained the reputation of providing premium service to whoever comes to us regardless of economic status and, needless to say, political belief,” he said. “This crisis is definitely a test of our resilience and the depth of our social commitment as we still hope and pray for the best.”

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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