When my long-time driver was finally able to acquire his own motorbike, I saw the excitement in his eyes as he rattles off his plans to take his wife and his son on leisurely drives around the city. Of course those plans were put on hold during the lockdown so when the announcement from the National Task Force (NTF) against Covid-19 allowing motorcycle back-riding for couples starting July 10, the immediate response from the riders was a sigh of relief given the long-standing complaints from the public about limited mass transport operations under community quarantine protocols. It is ridiculous, though, for the IATF to implement a regulation that will require the motorcycle drivers to set up a barrier between the driver and the passenger, and install a handle bar supposedly, for the safety of the passenger.
This added regulation is cumbersome and defeats the purpose of preventing viral infections considering that the riding couples are people living in the same household where masks are not worn and they are basically in close proximity to one another. This issue was mentioned by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who raised concerns over the safety issues of having such an installation.
“What’s the use of a barrier when couples hold hands when getting on the motorbike and kiss each other goodbye after the ride? Sen. Recto pointed the absurdity of it as akin to “installing a concrete road divider on the matrimonial bed. There would be no use for the divider if couples get intimate at home anyway. There have also been concerns that having such dividers could compromise the safety of motorcycle riders,” he added.
Health and safety no doubt remain as the number one issue for the nation and that all of us have to focus on keeping ourselves, our families and the people around us protected from the onslaught of this pandemic. However, well-meaning measures such as this one for the motorcycling public should also be considered in the light of what is practical and beneficial to people rather than being burdensome to our already stressed lives in these times. The restrictions for pillion riders make sense if we are considering how on-call transport providers like Angkas, Move It and JoyRide companies return to operations, but, really, for private motorbike owners and their family members?
Take the issue of ID verification by the roving checkpoints and police teams roaming our streets. Police Lt. Gen Guillermo Eleazar, the chief of the Joint Task Force COVID-19 Shield, describe the process as such: couples/family members who live together are allowed to ride together, but they still need to show IDs or a barangay certification showing that they live in the same address. One could just imagine the long lines of motorcycles clogging our outer-lanes queuing for inspectors to check their riders’ identifications.
I could just picture the same congestions during the early days of ECQ here in Metro Manila when motorcycles were checked one by one before entering the cities’ environs. So, there ought to be a better way of doing it, rather than stranding our hundreds and even thousands of motorcycle riders under the scorching sun or drenching rain.
We cannot overemphasize how each one of us has to take extra precaution against COVID 19 especially now that our rates of infection have doubled from a month ago when we just had a total 24,787 coronavirus cases. Within a 30-day period, the country hit a new record for the highest number of cases so far, according to the Department of Health, as confirmed virus infections surpass 54,000 with about 1400 confirmed deaths.
There have been soundings from President Duterte and/or the COVID 19 Task Force of perhaps tightening or slowing the pace of re-opening the economy given the new highs of the virus infection. There is a lot of human behavior and social practices involved that make us more susceptible and we must take account of all of this. Public health experts use the term harm-reduction that people have to practice given the situation or conditions that they may find themselves outside of their homes.
With the DOH saying that it could only aspire to testing 1.5% of the country’s population by the end of July, 2020, we could surmise that there are many people who may have the virus but have not been tested so it will be hard to tell who has it or not.
Just last week, there were press reports that there could be airborne transmission of the coronavirus disease particularly in specific closed settings such as restaurants and hospitals. This means closed or interior dining in restaurants could be dangerous and even public restrooms could be suspect. So as much as possible, open your windows be it in cars or limit your time in congested spots like malls or restaurants as aerosols of the virus that are so small may linger in the air, and could be infectious as some studies have shown.
Finally let me end by extending my condolences to the family of Mrs. Zenaida Maranan, the national president of the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (Fejodap), whose advocacy for the rights of ordinary public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers especially in these past months of the Covid-induced lockdowns is something I have shared with our readers. Mrs Maranan was 75.