How local governments observed physical distancing in evacuation centers

Jene-Anne Pangue
To help LGUs prepare better as the country gears up for the typhoon season during a pandemic, MovePH collates a number of response practices observed when Ambo hit the country

TYPHOON AMBO. During the pandemic, modular tents are positioned a few meters apart to ensure health and safety of the evacuees taking shelter in Naval Municipal Gymnasium as the province prepares for Typhoon #AmboPH on Thursday, May 14. Photo by Jan Albert Saulan

MANILA, Philippines – In a disaster-prone country like the Philippines, how are local government units (LGUs) adapting to safeguard public health as they deal with the coronavirus pandemic? Specifically, how are LGUs implementing physical distancing in usually cramped evacuation centers? 

Quarantine restrictions were implemented in March in light of the pandemic. After about 2 months on lockdown, the government released guidelines governing areas to be put on modified community quarantine. (READ: DOCUMENT: Omnibus guidelines on modified ECQ, modified GCQ

But even as it grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak, the country is not spared from other calamities, particularly typhoons. The Philippines experiences an average of 20 tropical cyclones per year . (READ: LIST: PAGASA’s names for tropical cyclones in 2020)

Typhoon Ambo (Vongfong), the first major weather disturbance of 2020, made landfall 6 times before it weakened into a severe tropical storm on Friday, May 15. 

Implementing protocols to ensure safety during a typhoon has become a challenge for both local agencies and residents. Strict health and quarantine measures must still be in place to prevent viral transmissions in evacuation centers. Making this challenge even more complex is the fact that some designated evacuation centers were earlier converted into COVID-19 health facilities.

In a lot of ways,  LGUs are creating new standards and measures to adapt to the changing times.

To help LGUs prepare better as the country gears up for the typhoon season during a pandemic, MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm, collated a number of typhoon response practices observed when Ambo hit the country. 

Physical barriers

In Naval town, province of Biliran, modular tents were positioned a few meters apart to ensure health and safety of the 227 residents or 55 families who took shelter at the municipal gymnasium. The gym was one of the 5 evacuation centers in the municipality. (READ: Social distancing ‘per family’ at Typhoon Ambo evacuation centers)

This practice was also seen in Sorsogon City. A day before Ambo made its first landfall, Sorsogon City Mayor Ester Hamor issued an order to transfer residents living in flood and landslide-prone areas to evacuation centers not being used as COVID-19 quarantine facilities.

At the evacuation centers, families must observe mandatory physical distancing (maximum of 2 families per room) and wear face masks. These areas must also be disinfected. 


Although acquiring modular tents have been a good practice among some LGUs because of the personal space and safety it brings to evacuees, not all could afford this.

Procuring modular tents may take even longer as LGUs are cash strapped with the reallocation of funds due to the outbreak. 

Reducing capacity of evacuees

The need to observe physical distancing automatically meant LGUs had to reduce the capacity of evacuation centers to almost half. 

Residents in lakeside barangays Ipil, Ibayugan, Sta. Cruz, and Iraya were evacuated at various evacuation camps in Buhi town, Camarines Sur. The local government limited the number of evacuees to between 15 to 20 per room in its designated evacuation centers.


Given the necessity to manage the number of evacuees,  LGUs must now designate more evacuation centers as part of preparations ahead of the typhoon season. 

In Dingalan, Aurora, they addressed this by bringing at least 3,000 residents living in danger zone areas to schools and churches. This was because it turned its main evacuation center into a COVID-19 facility. 

Required use of face masks, visible signages 

Signs were also posted in the evacuation center to remind evacuees to wear face masks, wash their hands often and observe physical distancing. 

Games and stress debriefing were also initiated by daycare and municipal social workers to the children evacuees.  Health workers took charge of the nutritional needs for malnourished children and pregnant women. 

In Buhi, Camarines Sur, for example, government employees handed out face masks to the evacuees at the municipality’s millenium center. The area was staging area where evacuees where registered per family before they were transported to their assigned evacuation centers. 

Although an ordinance was released requiring the use of face masks in their municipality, local officials found out that some evacuees were not wearing any surgical or improvised face mask. This moved them to start distributing the limited masks left. 

Designated rooms for the sick and elderly 

In an emergency meeting ahead of the typhoon, the provincial government of Albay said that they practiced physical distancing by limiting each evacuation room to a maximum of 4 families and required the wearing face masks during evacuation. They also set aside a separate room for sick individuals and senior citizens.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the elderly and those with existing medical conditions were at a higher risk of getting severe coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Thus, extra care must be given to them to reduce susceptibility of acquiring the disease. – 

Jene-Anne Pangue

Jene-Anne Pangue is a community and civic engagement specialist of MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm. Her involvement with Rappler started when she became a mover in 2014 and an intern in 2015. Since then, she learned the importance of building communities of action for social good as she continues to work with movers and doers across the country.