Most vulnerable communities
They are the most vulnerable to the economic fallout from the enhanced community quarantine. At the same time, however, informal settlers live in the most congested areas in Metro Manila, where social distancing can be impossible to observe, thus raising the risk of infection. This could curtail the informal settlers’ ability to earn a living.
Because of the high risk of spreading the disease in such a crowded environment, local government units have started imposing tighter quarantines in certain slum communities with confirmed COVID-19 cases. The immediate consequence is the inability of the squatter household to survive on its own. With no one in the household capable of earning for the day’s meals and other basic needs, the government can expect resistance to quarantine efforts.
Last night, authorities were still trying to trace the whereabouts of a man who tested positive for COVID-19, but who could not be found at the address that he listed, in an informal settlement in Quezon City. Authorities are unsure if he is truly a resident of the slum community and had escaped from the extreme community quarantine, or if he had reported a fake address. The result of his test, however, is not fake, and he could be aggravating the COVID-19 contagion.
The city of Manila and other local government units across the country are resorting to similar complete lockdowns of certain areas to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. If the government wants such extreme measures to work, it will have to ensure that those living in communities under total lockdown will be adequately provided with their basic needs in a timely manner.
Special protocols are needed to address the difficulty of promoting social distancing in informal settlements. Along tiny alleys opening out to narrow streets, families of six to 10 members live in poorly ventilated shanties separated merely by flimsy plywood and galvanized iron sheets. Promoting social distancing in such communities will require innovative ideas, political resolve and effective implementation.