Task force eyes resumption of bus services under GCQ areas

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 28)— The COVID-19 inter-agency task force is pushing for the partial resumption of bus operations in areas that will be placed under general community quarantine, a senior official said Thursday.

Should President Rodrigo Duterte approve the proposal, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said buses will be allowed to ply the roads— provided they operate at 50 percent capacity and will follow proper health standards.

"Under GCQ, ang buses ay papayagan na rin 'yan, pero at 50 percent capacity. 'Yung mga upuan niyan, hindi talaga dapat uupuan lahat, may alternately," Año said in an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: Under GCQ, we will allow buses, but at 50 percent capacity. The seats should not be filled up, passengers should sit alternately.]

Año said officials are also pushing for terminal-to-terminal travels, with transport authorities designating official drop-off points in thoroughfares. He added that log-in and documentation of passengers will be required at bus stations, in case contact tracing would be needed.

"Eto na talaga ang magiging buhay natin (this is going to be our life now), everything has to be recorded," he added.

The IATF has formally recommended that Metro Manila shift to GCQ from June 1 to 15, with high-risk barangays (villages) subject to localized lockdowns.

This is similar to the recommendation of Metro Manila mayors to ease quarantine restrictions in the capital region to allow more nonessential businesses to reopen in the hopes of restarting the economy and helping workers amid the COVID-19 crisis. The region is under the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine until May 31.

Duterte, however, still has the final say on the quarantine measures to be implemented post-May 31, with the chief executive expected to address the nation Thursday night for the announcement.

READ: Duterte to address the nation after COVID-19 task force recommends Metro Manila be placed under GCQ

Earlier, the Transportation Department said it will follow a two-phased approach in reopening public transportation, with buses and modern jeepneys expected to be deployed only three weeks after Metro Manila shifts to GCQ.

More public transport under GCQ

Año said mass transport— except for jeepneys— will be allowed to run in limited capacity once Metro Manila and other areas shift to a more relaxed GCQ.

"Bubuksan na nating 'yung mass transportation diyan (GCQ), or public transportation, except 'yung ibang mga sasakyan katulad ng traditional jeepney, dahil mahirap ipatupad ang physical distancing dito. Or baka ang traditional jeep natin sa bagong normal ay maging mga delivery vehicles na lang ito," he noted.

[Translation: We will open mass transportation or public transportation, except other vehicles like traditional jeepney, because it's hard to enforce physical distancing here. Or maybe our traditional jeep, in our new normal, can become delivery vehicles.]

Año added some provincial buses to and from Metro Manila may also be allowed to resume operations soon, but noted the DOTr will still have to release the final guidelines in the coming days.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque meanwhile clarified that under the recent IATF guidelines, public transportation will run at 10 to 50 percent capacity.

"Matagal na ang GCQ scheme na inapprove ng IATF upon the recommendation of DOTr. Iyan po ang ipatutupad," Roque said in his virtual media briefing in the same day. "May naririnig akong ibang mga opisyales na nagsasabi ng ibang bagay. Babalik at babalik po tayo sa IATF guidelines -- from 10 to 50 percent po ang pagbalik ng public transportation."

[Translation: The GCQ scheme has long been approved by the IATF upon the recommendation of DOTr. That's what we'll implement. I've been hearing some officials saying different things. We'll still go back to the IATF guidelines-- public transportation will resume from 10 to 50 percent.]

Challenges in implementation?

The Metro Manila Development Authority, for its part, admitted there will be some challenges in the implementation of the transport measures should the region continue on with GCQ.

MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialago said authorities would have to make sure that physical distancing will still be followed in loading and unloading areas.

"Kailangan po maging maliwanag sa kanila 'yung mga carrying capacity ng mga pampublikong sasakyan. 'Yung agawan na dati ho nating ginagawa, hindi na ho 'yun maaari ngayon," Pialago told CNN Philippines in a separate interview.

[Translation: It should be clear to them that there is a standard carrying capacity for public vehicles. Cutting lines and fighting over seats will not be allowed now.]

Pialago added a "modified" number coding scheme for private vehicles may be put in the place once GCQ is implemented in the metro. However, the policy— which will still exempt medical workers and frontliners— is still being finalized.