Rescuing the rescuers: Communities help frontliners navigate Luzon lockdown

By Mark Cristino and Taryn Wilson

Manila, May 9 (efe-epa).- The lockdown enforced across the Philippines island of Luzon due to the COVID-19 crisis has left some essential frontline workers, especially those in health care, without transport. But now, community groups are rallying to rescue the rescuers.

On Mar. 16, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placed an “enhanced community quarantine” on the entirety of Luzon, home to capital Manila, to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. This meant the suspension of work for many businesses, strict stay-at-home rules for all non-essential workers, and a total ban on public transportation.

Some of those still going to work have reported walking many kilometers and for over an hour a day to get there, and although the government provides shuttle buses for medical frontliners, accessibility remains a problem with only major roads and thoroughfares serviced.

This has led advocates from various community groups to start initiatives for the lending and donating of bicycles to essential workers. Pio Fortuno Jr. and “Kuya Boy” are among those who started the movement by lending their personal bicycles and their time and skills by repairing bikes free of charge.

“What we do during this time of the COVID-19 crisis is that we source bicycles to be used by frontliners in society right now – nurses, doctors, security guards and all those who need transportation to get to their place of work from home,” Fortuno told EFE.

The movement gained traction, at first from individuals and groups lending their two-wheelers, to the donations of bicycles as well as other accessories such as helmets, reflectors and locks. The frontliners who receive bikes are also oriented on road safety and given other tips.

Facebook groups are also popping up to pair bicycle lenders and donors with those in need, including Life Cycles PH Community and Lend a Bike Project.

“Life Cycles PH pairs institutions in need with generous bike donors to make sure that frontliners – including doctors, nurses, and other essential workers – can get to work during the COVID-19 quarantine,” the community’s Facebook page, which has nearly 5,000 members, reads.

People post their location and contact details and their job and its location on the page so the community can organize for bicycles to be delivered to them. Some ask for or offer spare parts such as tires and lights.

On the Lend a Bike Project page, with nearly 4,000 members, many of those who have received bikes post “thank you” notes and pictures with their new wheels, some with white “Frontliner” signs attached to aid freedom of movement on the roads.

Health workers have been widely impacted by the coronavirus epidemic in the country.

On Friday, the country’s health department reported 1,934 health workers infected with the virus, accounting for nearly one in five of the more than 10,400 cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines. Of the 696 deaths, 34 have been those of health workers.

Last month, the World Health Organization said the high number of health workers in the Philippines infected with COVID-19 – at that time around 13 percent of the total – was “worrisome.”

“In our region it is around two to three percent… The Philippines is a bit of an outlier,” WHO-Western Pacific Region COVID-19 incident manager Dr. Abdi Mahamud said. The region covers 37 member states. EFE-EPA


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