DOTr eyes 30% resumption of mass transport
In a virtual briefing yesterday, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the proposal is still subject to the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Michael Varcas

DOTr eyes 30% resumption of mass transport

Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2020 - 12:00am

COVID cases may surge after lockdown – MMC

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is looking at the possibility of resuming operations of public transportation particularly buses and trains, but only at 30 percent capacity, to comply with physical distancing measures in line with efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In a virtual briefing yesterday, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the proposal is still subject to the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“If the IATF will approve it, then we will have partial operability,” Tugade said. “But the operational capacity will be abbreviated so that we will be able to maintain the rules of the Department of Health (DOH) on social distancing.”

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua on Monday presented to the IATF studies on the possible partial operation of public transportation, according to Tugade.

The DOTr chief said the same 30 percent operation capacity is being eyed for railway systems such as the Light Rail Transit Line 1, LRT-2, Metro Rail Transit Line 3 and the Philippine National Railways.

Operations of these rail systems as well as land transport modes such as public utility buses, jeepneys, taxis, transport network vehicle service, FX, UV express and motorcycle taxis were suspended on March 17 upon the enforcement of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.

Prior to the implementation of the quarantine, the DOTr issued general guidelines for the riding public, mandating commuters to implement social distancing and other precautionary measures to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

In a letter sent to Tugade on Monday, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said there is a need for public transportation services to operate so that people can go to work to ensure business continuity, thus avoiding closures and layoffs.

The MAP is proposing a transport system that is demand-driven, meaning the number of transport vehicles to be authorized will be determined by the size of the requirements for transport service.

Surge in cases feared

There could be a sudden rise in the number of people possibly infected with the new coronavirus, depending on the government’s decision to lift or continue enforcing the Luzon-wide quarantine by April 30, according to Makati Medical Center (MMC) medical director and acting chief executive officer Saturnino Javier.

“My fear is that we might see a surge in numbers… but depending on the degree of the lockdown, whether partial or total,” Javier told The STAR.

The MMC chief explained that how the government would act on imposing quarantine measures, like physical distancing and wearing of face masks, beyond April 30 “would determine the volume of cases.”

The government has yet to announce if it would lift or extend the lockdown, and what kind it would enforce should it be extended.

So far, the MMC has attended to at least 335 COVID-19 patients, with around 35 percent of them discharged and around six percent died, according to Javier.

Such development made him believe that the hospital “seem(s) to be in parallel to the government’s narrative of flattening the curve,” or trying to lessen the number of confirmed cases and register more recoveries than deaths.

He said it could be attributed to the testing done at the hospital, which could perform at least 150 tests a day.

The DOH has given a go-signal to the MMC to be one of the testing centers for COVID-19.

“We fear that testing kits would be depleted, so we have to source out from other testing kit suppliers that have been approved by the government,” Javier said.

While he claimed that the MMC has ample supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and face masks, he admitted that the hospital has to “catch up” with its supply.

‘Not yet time to lift lockdown’

For public health advocate Anthony Leachon, it is not yet time to lift the Luzon-wide quarantine.

Leachon, special adviser to the IATF, said the lockdown should continue since the spread of COVID-19 has not yet been contained.

“I think we have not controlled the viral spread because the numbers of cases and deaths continue to increase,” he said in an interview with “The Chiefs” aired on Cignal TV’s One News the other night.

To effectively stop the spread of COVID-19, Leachon noted that “the incidents of new cases must be at the level that you can manage.”

At the same time, he claimed that there must also be “substantial clinical capacity in reserve.”

“If it’s a traffic light, it must be yellow. Red means we do not meet the target while green means we met the target. Sorry but we are yellow here, and I don’t think in nine days, we will be able to achieve our goal,” he said.

Leachon’s opinion was echoed by Filipino Nurses United secretary general Jocelyn Andamo, who said there are two aspects that must be considered in deciding whether or not the lockdown should be modified, lifted or retained: the health aspect and the socio-economic aspect.

“On the health aspect, we, as nurses, believe that it will be difficult to liftbecause our mass testing capacity is not yet stable. The possible resurgence of cases is scary,” Adamo said.

She added that it is important to identify cases and to put them in isolation so that they will not transmit the virus to others.

As regards the socio-economic aspect, however, Andamo said food and livelihood must be provided to those who would be affected.

“Basic needs should be provided. In our ranks, many nurses are ‘no work, no pay.’ They need to be subsidized and regularized,” she added.

Senators favor extension

Several senators are in favor of extending the already prolonged quarantine in areas where the number of COVID-19 cases remain high, with some easing of restrictions in areas where infections have been contained.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that based on the briefing of health experts he attended at Malacañang on Monday, the number of cases appears to be starting to plateau, but there are no indications yet that the figure is going down as mass testing is just beginning to take off.

“The prevailing belief – not only in our country, but also in the international community – (is that) once you lift (quarantine) prematurely, (infections) will spike,” Sotto told dzMM.

He added that he expected the quarantine to be “modified” after April 30, but the National Capital Region is expected to continue maintaining most, if not all, of the present restrictions.

Other areas covered by the quarantine, like the Ilocos region, may see some easing of restrictions, according to Sotto.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that while some of his colleagues were in favor of a modified lockdown after April 30, he wants the quarantine extended for another two weeks.

“We have to look at the science, we have to look at the numbers first,” Zubiri told “The Chiefs” the other night.

“I don’t see a leveling of the curve, many remain stubborn (defying the quarantine), and if we are not serious, this could bring our health system to the brink,” he added.

Sen. Bong Go said he favors extending the quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19 even as he asked the public for their full cooperation in order for the country to overcome the crisis soon.

Go said President Duterte is still mulling over the possible extension of the quarantine and had consulted experts and former health secretaries on the best way forward to contain and eventually stop the outbreak.

Asked about his position on the matter, the senator said he is in favor of extending the quarantine measures in Metro Manila for another 15 days, given that cases are still rising in the metropolis.

Economic needs

Meanwhile, workers are open to a gradual lifting of lockdown, but urged the government to address the economic needs of those who would not be allowed to immediately return to their jobs.

Defend Jobs Philippines spokesman Thadeus Ifurung said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must not only prepare for operational, health and safety protocols when the quarantine is gradually lifted.

“Only if the labor department can assure us that it can subsidize the lost daily income of our workers can we be confident to support its gradual return to work scheme after the quarantine. If not, then just allow them to get back to work and plan out a more comprehensive and holistic approach to ensure the safety of all our workers inside and outside their workplaces,” Ifurung said.

The group’s spokesman added that the economic needs of workers who will be delayed in reporting back to work must be on top of the DOLE’s consideration to be addressed.

“While social distancing and health and safety issues are essential to be considered, our government, through the DOLE, must also craft plans on how are they going to resolve the socio-economic needs of our workers to provide for their families while they still cannot go back to work,” he said.

The DOLE’s gradual return to work approach after the immediate lifting of the quarantine will only be acceptable once the demands of workers for adequate financial aid, P5,000 cash assistance for all and fast delivery of support are provided by the government, according to Ifurung.

The DOLE had earlier announced that only 30 percent of workers can immediately return to work after the lifting of quarantine. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Paolo Romero, Ghio Ong, Mayen Jaymalin, Elizabeth Marcelo, Christina Mendez, Czeriza Valencia

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