Ocean Sailor Magazine

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Cabin fever: Pandemic in the Philippines

For seven centuries ships, riddled with infectious diseases, have been quarantined in restricted harbours. But what happens when the port itself is in lockdown? Tamara Rapoport found out…

After selling all our possessions and taking delivery of Looking Good II, our Kraken 50, in Hong Kong in June 2019, who would have foreseen we would end up in quarantine lockdown in the Philippines for 12 weeks at the Cebu Yacht Club less than a year later?

We set sail from the magnificent area of El Nido heading towards the central Visaya region of the Philippines to enjoy what we thought would be months of white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Instead, my husband, Malcolm, and I found ourselves in Cebu City (Lapu Lapu) where we had gone to await delivery of spare part for our windlass.  We are confined to Cebu Yacht Club, which has the worst facilities we have ever seen and is totally run down and completely unhygienic.

The fact that the marina management refused to offer us a monthly or even weekly rate instead charging us the extortionate day rate of $50 Aus is clearly exploitative, to put it mildly and smacks of profiteering.

We were informed three days after our arrival that we would be unable to leave the yacht club harbour and in case we decided otherwise, physical barriers were rigged across the entrance. The office was then closed until further notice with no further information or assistance forthcoming.

We were about to be marooned, as all public transportation, taxis and the Uber equivalent, was due to cease, so we were fortunate to find a driver who spoke excellent English, who acted as translator and transporter, taking us to the Coastguard, Immigration and local council to obtain all the required documentation. All businesses other than supermarkets, pharmacies, fuel stations and fast food outlets were closed with no alcohol sales for the duration of the lockdown, another authoritarian dictat.

Our quarantine pass allowed one person per ‘household’ to go out on alternate days. The queues to get into the supermarket were very ordered, unlike the chaos we heard reported from back home in Australia. Here, even with average waiting times of two hours, the people had amazing patience and rarely complained. There would have been a riot back home. Very early on, rationing and a  Government price freeze was imposed on basic food items. Supermarket shelves were thus kept fully stocked with all fresh produce available.

Filipinos are very poor, and rely on shopping daily as they rarely have refrigeration and certainly do not own freezers, nor do they have the money or storage for bulk purchases. They can’t afford cars, so rely on public transport to get to the markets each day for food. Several generations of these large families live together, from hand to mouth to survive. Earnings from Filipinos working away from home, who send money back to support their relatives, is no longer coming in, as jobs have been lost worldwide.

Every day we have seen the queues at the money lenders and pawn brokers getting longer as desperation sets in. 

At the end of our street, we have a large water village where the poorest people live in shacks. The majority of the residents have lost their jobs, no matter how menial, and are now starving.

The local councils, called Barangays, are overwhelmed and are battling to provide some relief with bags of rice doled out to the poorest citizens. People in Australia who complain about having to spend 14 days in quarantine in a hotel with three meals per day paid for by the Government should see the starving people and animals that surround us every day. It is tragic and has been a very humbling experience.

We are completely stymied by the lockdown as even if we could leave, we don’t have another country we can sail to in the region. 

Malaysian ports are in lockdown and so, too is Singapore where anyone entering faces draconian fines. Even vessels in need of freshwater are being denied access to supplies.

Plus, anywhere we arrive at once the lockdown is lifted, will require a further 14 days quarantine on the boat. 

On top of all that the typhoon season is about to start so, we need to move south as soon as we can. 

At least we are healthy and can afford to buy anything we need, even though our resilience has been tested regularly as the dates for lifting restrictions continues to change so we have plans ranging from A-Z. 

Our wonderful life of freedom on the ocean waves remains on hold for only a little while longer, we hope. 

All the latest worldwide cruising information for which countries are now open and which still closed is available at 

www.noonsite.com

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