Gov’t studying bus, train runs with just 30% capacity
MANILA, Philippines — Authorities are studying the possibility of allowing buses and trains to resume operations but with a diminished capacity as President Duterte decides whether to lift, extend or modify the Luzon lockdown he has imposed to suppress the spread of the new coronavirus in the Philippines.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said on Wednesday that if the buses and LRT 1 and 2, MRT 3 and Philippine National Railways would be allowed to operate, they should only take in 30 percent of their capacity so that passengers would still be able to observe physical distancing.
Speaking at a press briefing, Tugade said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases discussed the resumption of public transportation during a meeting on Monday.
He said the acting chief of the National Economic and Development Authority, Karl Chua, presented studies showing that public transportation should not be allowed to run at full capacity.
“If the [task force] would allow it, we would have partial [operation but capacity would be] reduced so that we could observe the Department of Health (DOH) guidelines on social distancing,” he said.
Tugade also said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) was studying the possibility of allowing the resumption of interisland ferries, especially in areas with no reported coronavirus cases.
Besides physical distancing, thermal scanning and wearing protective masks would also be required should public transportation be allowed to resume, he said.
On the recommendation of the task force, the President placed the entire island of Luzon on lockdown in mid-March as the number of coronavirus cases began to rise.
The lockdown shuttered schools and businesses and prohibited public transportation, allowing only essential enterprises, such as food manufacturing, wet markets and supermarkets, banks, hospitals and drugstores, to operate.
Health workers and employees at essential businesses who need to report for work are ferried by government shuttles or private vehicles, ride bikes or motorcycles, or walk long distances.
Luzon is home to half of the Philippines’ population of 107 million, and industries on the island contribute more than 70 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.
The nearly month-and-a-half lockdown has slowed the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health (DOH), but the economic fallout has rolled back growth to minus 1 percent, or maybe even zero, for the first quarter.
To save the country’s P52-trillion economy, the President’s advisers and the interagency task force have recommended gradual business reopenings, lifting the lockdown in places without coronavirus cases, and extending it in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, a former longtime aide to Mr. Duterte, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that the President would make a decision on Thursday.
In a statement, the task force said on Wednesday that the President was studying his options and urged the public to refrain from speculating on what his decision would be.
“We wish to remind the public not to spread false information and speculations. The President is set to hand [down] his decision within the week,” it said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang was carefully studying its options and preparing for the possibility that the outbreak could worsen.
He said the Palace was taking seriously the warning on Monday of World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that “the worst is yet ahead of us.”
Go has proposed lifting the lockdown in places without coronavirus cases and extending it in places with high rates of infections, such as Metro Manila.
Many of his Senate colleagues support his proposal. As of Wednesday, however, only one Metro Manila mayor has expressed support for the extension of the lockdown in the metropolis.
Speaking in an online press briefing, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto said it might be premature to lift the lockdown, at least in his city.
“If we lift it now when there [is] still a high number of cases, then why did we have it in the first place?” Sotto said.
He said mass testing must be conducted to see whether the virus was burning out before even considering lifting the lockdown. —WITH A REPORT FROM MATTHEW REYSIO-CRUZ
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