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5-day shutdown until July 11 to give way to testing of all 3,200 personnel

By:  Matthew Reysio-Cruz 

The Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 will shut down operations for at least five days starting today, July 7, after 186 personnel tested positive for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including ticket sellers who had been assigned at some of the railway’s busiest stations.

The MRT 3 management announced on Monday the closure, which would allow its entire workforce of over 3,200 employees to be tested. It said it needed at least 1,300 personnel to test negative before it could resume even limited operations.

As of Monday afternoon, it was still 964 employees short of the required number.

Though the MRT 3 management said the plan was to halt operations until Saturday, July 11, it acknowledged in a statement that the situation was highly fluid. The shutdown could be shortened or extended, depending on how quickly the test results would be released.

MRT 3 officials said that operations would resume even if the number of available workers could operate only a limited number of trains. Before the shutdown, the initial wave of confirmed COVID-19 cases at Metro Manila’s busiest railway system had prompted management to reduce the number of operating trains this week to just 10 to 12 trains, compared to the normal 16 to 19.

The employees, who also included maintenance providers and subcontractors, were being subjected to swab tests by the Philippine Coast Guard at the Palacio de Maynila swabbing center with additional assistance from the Red Cross.

The number of MRT 3 personnel who tested positive for COVID-19 climbed to 186 on Monday, an addition of 14 new cases from the day before. Transport Undersecretary TJ Batan told reporters that 12 of these were personnel assigned to some of the busiest stations.

Reduced risk

Officials sought to allay concerns among passengers who had used the MRT 3, saying station personnel wore full personal protective equipment (PPE) suits that reduced the risk of transmission.

“This is exactly the reason why we increased PPE precautions among station personnel even before these new cases surfaced,” Batan said. “They were in masks, face shields, gloves and gowns exactly to safeguard passengers and personnel as well.”

Around 166 of those infected were maintenance workers assigned to the railway’s underground depot, also in Quezon City, where cases have exploded since the first one was found on June 14. Batan said initial contact tracing showed the infected station workers had not come into contact with depot personnel.

It was unclear, however, how transport officials would trace commuters who had come into contact with the positive ticket sellers, or if that was even possible. Transport Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran said on Monday that riders should monitor themselves for symptoms.

“During the temporary shutdown, thorough disinfection of all MRT 3 facilities will be conducted, including its depot, stations and trains,” the railway managers said.

The 90 buses under the MRT 3 bus augmentation program would also continue to ferry thousands of commuters who would be displaced by the closure. An additional 150 buses would be deployed for the Edsa Busway service between Monumento and Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange.