About 275 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) are currently staying at the North Harbor in Tondo, Manila after some towns in Western Visayas barred them from returning to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Philippine Ports Authority General Manager Jay Santiago said that the LSIs keep going to the port because they wish to go back to their hometowns despite repeated announcements from the government that there was a travel ban in place.
“Those who have tickets, about 175 people, they’re staying in two areas: the concourse area and the arrival area which we converted to a temporary holding facility. Our priorities are senior citizens and those who have children. They will be the first [to be given shelter],” Santiago told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo in English and Filipino.
He added that the LSIs won’t be able to catch a ship to go to their home provinces because the moratorium will not be lifted until after Aug. 21. The government has been feeding the LSIs who have camped out at the port, and Santiago admitted that their resources have been stretched thin because they have been taking care of the crowds for the past four months.
“We’re running out of funds [by feeding them]. We didn’t expect this to happen and we don’t have the money for that sort of operation,” the port general manager explained.
“While there are a few from the private sector who are helping and giving food, it’s not enough,” Santiago added.
The LSIs’ deplorable situation became viral over the weekend when Getty Images photographer Ezra Azayan shared several images showing the stranded persons in a sorry state as they live inside shipping containers. The LSIs said they are fed only once a day and would often “fight over” the donations given to them by concerned citizens and soldiers.
Last month, thousands of LSIs converged at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila to wait for free transport that would bring them back to their home provinces. Critics said that the situation could have accelerated the spread of the coronavirus, after images spread online which showed many LSIs standing and sleeping side-by-side without masks. At least 48 LSIs were found reactive in COVID-19 rapid tests.
Metro Manila and four other areas have been placed under the modified enhanced community quarantine, which prohibits travel to other provinces. The quarantine is expected to be lifted on Aug. 18.
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