Thousands of Filipinos were forced into a baseball stadium in Manila on Saturday and, despite the risk of coronavirus, violated social distance rules after people who wanted to return to their home provinces flooded a state transportation program.
Officials had reserved the stadium as a place to test people before returning to their home provinces as part of a program to help people who lost their jobs in the capital return to their families elsewhere.
Officials had planned that 7,500 people should arrive at the stadium by Friday, but were caught when another 2,000 people who had not yet been planned went there.
"Due to the overcrowding of people, we can no longer control the situation and the relevance of social distancing has been reduced," Deputy Secretary Joseph Encabo, who oversees the government's transportation aid program, told Reuters by phone.
The police have been used to promote social detachment, but people, including the elderly, children and pregnant women, have been seen in close contact. Some did not wear masks.
Many of those at the stadium were stuck in the capital when they put one of the strictest and longest barriers in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
This was eased in early June so that businesses can reopen to a limited extent, but schools remain closed and mass gatherings are prohibited. People must wear masks in public and maintain a distance of one meter while children and older people are encouraged to stay at home.
Coronavirus cases have more than quadrupled since the restrictions were lifted to 78,412, with more than half of the cases occurring in the capital and surrounding areas.
Among those in the stadium was Fred Marick Ukol, 40, who was stuck in Manila after his flight to Australia, where he found a job as a welder, was canceled.
"We have no work and now all of our savings have dried up due to the ban," said Ukol, referring to himself and his overseas Filipino colleagues.
Encabo said that everyone in the stadium would go through a quick test for COVID-19 and would need to be released before boarding government-prepared buses, ocean-going ships, and trains.
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