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Workers 'exposed' as Philippines relaxes Covid-19 rules

Labor groups criticize lack of mass testing as many people are allowed to return to work

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Workers 'exposed' as Philippines relaxes Covid-19 rules

Medical workers prepare to take swabs from residents during mass testing for Covid-19 at a park in Manila’s Quezon City. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

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The Philippine government has come under fire from labor groups for allowing people to return to work without implementing mass testing for Covid-19, saying it puts millions at risk of catching the deadly virus.

Officials say the government still only has a limited coronavirus testing capacity, which means tests can only be carried out on high-risk patients.

The admission came as the government eased quarantine restrictions on May 18, allowing many people to return to work.

Government-funded test kits are as yet unavailable to asymptomatic people [those not showing Covid-19 symptoms] because authorities still “do not have the capacity” for mass testing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on May 18.

“In an ideal world, everyone must be tested. But the public should know, firstly, mass testing is difficult. We only have 30 testing centers. We want to increase the number to 90,” Roque said.

Labor groups criticized the admission as being “anti-labor” after some private companies resumed operating on May 18.

The easing of quarantine protocols in Metro Manila and nearby provinces allows 50 percent of the workforce to resume working. The lack of testing, however, puts workers at risk, the labor groups said.

Before companies reopened, labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno had demanded mass testing for workers for safer workplaces.

“Without mass testing, workers may be exposed in their workplaces and traveling to and from work. Physical distancing, sanitizers and face masks are not enough,” the group’s secretary-general Jerome Adonis said.

The government cannot risk workers’ lives in favor of business, he said.

“We realize the decision [to reopen business establishments] was a concession to business. But the real mover of the economy is human labor. Workers’ health cannot be compromised,” he added.

Human rights group Karapatan also issued a statement calling for a “test, test, test” policy rather than an “arrest, arrest, arrest” one from authorities who have been strict with quarantine violators.

 “Continuing the punitive policy of arresting alleged quarantine violators, combined with a lack of needed public health measures — such as mass testing — is a deadly disaster in the making,” Karapatan said.

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