‘Jeepneys’, with their cheerfully gaudy exteriors and packed-in seats, are a national symbol of the Philippines, a form of public transport known affectionately as ‘kings of the road’.
But almost all of them have been forced off the roads by possibly the world’s longest and strictest coronavirus lockdown.
The situation has left many of the drivers destitute and desperate, with fellow citizens stepping in to raise money for them via Facebook groups.
Jowel Palaña, 41, a jeepney driver in Manila, told the Telegraph: “Every single day has been a struggle.”
He has not been able to work as a driver since March 15, when the lockdown began. Instead, he swept the streets in exchange for food from his local district leaders. He was unable to travel to see his wife, three children and their extended family outside the city – or send them any money to survive – for months.
Mr Palaña’s story is symbolic of the impact of the strict Covid-19 quarantine measures in the Philippines. It has seen 54,000 cases and around 1,400 deaths, a relatively low number considering the tolls in other countries from Brazil to the UK.
However, the strict shutdowns have left the country’s economy on its knees and its poorest citizens jobless and hungry.
Dr Amado Parawan, from Save The Children in the Philippines, said the government’s financial aid programme has already ended, leaving people struggling.
“People are starting to complain due to the financial and economic hardship,” he said. “We are expecting increasing cases of child undernutrition, the number of pregnancies, and child abuse.”
Under the strictest lockdown, known as ‘enhanced community quarantine’, no-one aged below 21 or over 60 years was allowed out at all, there was a 10:00 pm-5:00 am curfew, all offices, transport and schools were closed and only one family member was allowed out for essential food and medicine. This lasted across the country from March 15 to June 1, and has only been eased in some areas since then.
But even this could be shortlived. Since the slight relaxation of quarantine, there has been a surge in infections in the Philippines. It is now the second-worst hit in southeast Asia, after Indonesia.
Like thousands of others, Mr Palaña knows he will soon have to restart driving – if and when he is allowed. “I need to get back to work no matter what the dangers are. I need to be tough in order to survive and put food on the table for my family,” he said.
By Jennifer Rigby | Telegraph
Photos: Dan Olanday & Getty Images AsiaPac