SOME Cebuano commuters fear that Covid-19 cases will increase when the reduced physical distance between passengers in public transportation will be implemented in areas placed on modified general community quarantine.
Others agree with the authorities’ decision, saying the move can help public utility vehicle operators and drivers earn more amid the global health crisis sparked by the coronavirus disease 2019.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia praised the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for its move to give more space to commuters, who are mostly workers. She said this is one way of reviving the economy hit by the pandemic, which forced businesses to close.
Entrepreneur Cora Tomis described the move as risky as more commuters are now allowed to ride a single public transport unit.
The 43-year-old resident of Barangay Casuntingan, Mandaue City commutes when she buys supplies for her small banana cue business.
Tomis said it would be better to allow the traditional public utility jeepneys to resume operations again to transport more commuters. She preferred to travel by jeepney than by bus, which she said follows longer-than-the-usual routes.
“Mas maayong daghan kasakyan kaysa sa daghan ang mosakay (It is better if there are more vehicles than the commuters),” she said.
Traditional jeepneys were recently allowed by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board 7 to operate in all cities and municipalities in Central Visayas except in Mandaue City and Cebu City.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases recently approved the proposal of the DOTr to reduce the required physical distance between passengers inside public transport units to 0.75 or 3/4 meter from the current one meter to increase ridership.
This was supposed to be implemented on Monday, Sept. 14. But it was delayed after the President’s Cabinet officials were divided on this—a group of economic advisers supported the move while Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año expressed his reservations on the move.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, LTFRB 7 Director Eduardo Montealto Jr. said his office has not yet implemented the reduced physical distancing in public transportation as his office still awaits the release of the implementing guidelines from the DOTr central office.
After the 0.75 meter distance is implemented, it will be reduced further to 0.5 or 1/2 meter after two weeks and to 0.3 or 1/3 meter after another two weeks.
Commuters are still required to wear face masks and face shields inside public transport units. They are also prohibited from talking or making phone calls onboard.
New Covid-19 cases
Barangay Quiot, Cebu City resident Genea Cañete, 21, said the reduced distance inside public utility vehicles could lead to another wave of Covid-19 cases in Cebu.
She noticed that most of the buses are air-conditioned, which means that the air inside the buses is stale.
Some bus conductors also don’t carry thermal scanners, said Cañete.
“When you go out, you are already gambling with your health. How much more inside public transportation? Unlike random strangers you meet in the streets, you cannot avoid your fellow passengers during the whole duration of your travel,” she said in Cebuano.
Helping operators, drivers
Samboan, Cebu native Chenie Ve Ferrater said the DOTr move can help public utility vehicle operators and drivers generate more income.
The needs of the operators’ and drivers’ families will be met if they have stable earnings, she said.
Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, spokesperson of the Department of Health 7, said she heard mixed reactions from the frontliners.
She said the opinions of those who opposed the DOTr measure is understandable as there is still the need to maintain vigilance even if Central Visayas has maintained a low number of additional cases in the past weeks.
The DOTr shared on its Facebook page the recommendation of medical experts entitled, “Seven Commandments to Revitalize the Country Safely.”
These include the wearing of proper masks; wearing of face shields; no talking and no eating in PUVs; adequate ventilation; frequent and proper disinfection; disallowing symptomatic passengers to board in PUVs; and maintaining appropriate physical distancing.
The medical group said by imposing these strict measures, it believes the country can gradually relax social distancing rules.
The group also said the World Health Organization recommends keeping a distance of one meter from other passengers but it also “allows for adjustments based on context.”
“Given our other recommended health interventions, we propose the gradual reduction of the physical distancing norm during transit to 0.5 meters or lower,” the group said.
The group also said that based on its review of scientific literature, policies and experiences of neighboring countries, it believes that physical distancing can be maintained below one meter as long as other health measures are also implemented. (WBS with ANV)