8 stranded Filipinos test positive for COVID-19 in crammed Manila stadium

Thousands of stranded Filipinos await free transport to their provinces, seen crammed at the Rizal Sports Complex Stadium in footage taken July 25 <i>Video screengrab via Mai Bermudez / Twitter </i>
Thousands of stranded Filipinos await free transport to their provinces, seen crammed at the Rizal Sports Complex Stadium in footage taken July 25 Video screengrab via Mai Bermudez / Twitter

At least eight stranded individuals waiting inside the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila have tested positive for COVID-19, a government official announced today, after thousands spent several days in the arena hoping to get free transportation to their respective provinces.

Presidential Management Staff Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo told news cable channel ANC that the eight tested positive after undergoing rapid tests during the weekend, a requirement that the stranded individuals have to fulfill before going home to their hometowns.

Encabo said that the Department of Health will administer swab tests on the eight individuals, who have already been isolated. They would only be allowed to travel if the results come back negative and if they pass doctors’ assessments. The Health Department is expected to announce the results of the swab tests.

The eight people are among at least 6,000 individuals who trooped to the stadium to take advantage of a government project called Hatid Tulong (“Send Help”), which promised to give free transportation to people who were stuck in Metro Manila due to the government’s lockdowns. The program drew massive fury and criticism after photos and videos which circulated online showed thousands of stranded individuals, including children, sitting and sleeping side-by-side without face masks.

Read: COVID-19 cases in PH may reach 140,000 by end August, says UP research team

Encabo assured the public that despite the situation in the arena, the stranded individuals will not spread the coronavirus to their respective hometowns because they have undergone rapid tests, which are widely known within the scientific community for being unreliable. He also said that local government units (LGU) will “take care” of the stranded persons upon their arrival.

“[T]his is one way of preventing the spread of the virus, and of course the medical personnel of each LGUs will monitor and implement strictly the quarantine in order to secure their constituents,” Encabo said.

He added that about 3,600 have already been sent home last night.

“We’re very confident in hitting close to 6,000 for today,” he promised.

Police serenade questioned

Meanwhile, in another head-scratching moment, the Philippine National Police also drew public ire for sending members of its music band to play in the already packed Rizal Memorial Stadium to entertain the stranded people.

Spokesman Brig. General Bernard Banac defended the supposed musical treat, saying it was meant to lift people’s spirits.

“[O]ur police had to think of ways to cheer the people up. In such a big facility as a stadium, a musical band was deemed more suitable given the situation,” he said.

Banac failed to address the possible health risks that the band members face, several of whom played saxophone and had to remove their face masks to play their wind instruments. An issue that they apparently overlooked.

This led many to point out the snafu in the already ill-managed incident, with users like @heneraltophew tweeting,

“Health Professionals: covid-19 can be acquired through respiratory droplets. PNP: How about we ask a band to play wind instruments in Rizal Stadium where it’s crowded with people who are returning home to the province?”

 

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