Social distancing ‘per family’ at Typhoon Ambo evacuation centers

JC Gotinga

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Social distancing ‘per family’ at Typhoon Ambo evacuation centers
As the first typhoon hits the Philippines amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials say families should stay at least one meter apart from other families at evacuation centers

MANILA, Philippines – How do you prevent coronavirus transmissions when a typhoon forces thousands of people to take shelter in evacuation centers?

Government officials said physical distancing will be practiced “per family” in evacuation centers, as Typhoon Ambo (Vongfong) grazed Eastern Visayas on Thursday, May 14.

This means families are to stay at least one meter apart from other families while in temporary shelters.

In his regular virtual media briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Oplan Listo, the government’s disaster response coordinating body, is in “full force” preparing for the storm even as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ayon po sa Oplan Listo, sapat na po ang ating relief goods. Handa na po ang ating evacuation centers at ipapatupad ang social distancing on a per-family basis (According to Oplan Listo, we already have quite enough relief goods. Our evacuation centers are ready and social distancing will be implemented on a per-family basis),” Roque said.

Authorities have been preparing for this, and the government is already used to facing contingencies brought about by typhoons, he added.

In a separate televised briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the government has begun mobilizing local governments’ disaster response teams to ensure “minimum health standards” will be implemented at evacuation centers.

“Minimum health standards” include physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and checks for body temperature and symptoms of illness.

“So kailangan po, makapagpatupad at makagawa ng stratehiya kung saan magkakaroon ng pagkakahiwa-hiwalay na kahit isang metro po ang layo ng bawat pamilya diyan sa mga evacuation centers (So there needs to be a strategy so families can stay at least one meter apart from one another there in evacuation centers),” Vergeire said.

Vergeire noted how some local governments are able to provide each family a tent inside the stadiums and halls that usually serve as evacuation centers.

“I hope this can be done this time so families can observe minimum health standards to prevent further infection in this kind of facility,” she said.

Typhoon Ambo made landfall in San Policarpo, Eastern Samar, at 12:15 pm on Thursday. It is the first cyclone to hit the Philippines during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) earlier warned that Ambo would bring violent winds and heavy to torrential rain to the northern parts of Eastern Samar and Samar, as well as to Northern Samar.

PAGASA placed parts of the Visayas and of Luzon under Signal Numbers 1, 2, and 3.

Meanwhile, confirmed coronavirus cases in the country have reached 11,618 as of Wednesday, May 13, with 772 deaths and 2,251 recoveries. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.