Wearing facemasks, social distancing can help curb COVID-19 spread in PUVs – DOH

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday reiterated that wearing facemasks and observing social distancing can help prevent the spread of novel coronavirus disease, especially when riding public utility vehicles.

This was the response of the DOH to the statement of research group IBON Foundation that riding open-air vehicles such as jeepneys would not pose any risk of getting COVID-19.

“The mode of transmission is droplet infection. With our without aircon, basta naka-mask kayo lahat, you are distant to the person next to you at hindi kayo cramped, the possibility of getting infected is very low,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a televised briefing.

The IBON Foundation earlier said that traditional open-air public utility jeepneys are safer for passengers compared with air-conditioned modern jeepneys amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group cited numerous findings of researchers and guidelines from authorities around the world, including:

  • Findings of University of Amsterdam physicists and medical researchers which states that small cough droplets, potentially containing virus particles, can float in the air in a room for many minutes, especially when the room is poorly ventilated;
  • The European Center for Disease Control advise to ensure ventilation in the vehicle/wagon/boat at all times, and avoid recirculating air and encourage the use of windows, skylight panels, and fans to increase replacement with fresh air;
  • Thailand’s transport ministry’s instruction to public transport operators to open windows for good air ventilation
  • China’s advice to public transport groups to have retrofitted window vents to air-conditioned fleets
  • India’s directive enjoining buses to improve ventilation by increasing the frequency of fresh air intake.

IBON Foundation’s executive director Sonny Africa believes these studies will help the cause of jeepney drivers and operators who have been calling for the lifting of ban to operate amid the enforcement of community quarantine.

“Hindi kailanman matatapatan ng mga enclosed modern jeepneys yung sariwang hangin sa modern jeepney. So para dun lamang tingin namin malaking advantange ng mga tradional jeepney sa mga modernized airconditioned jeepney,” he said.

The DOH, however, said there is still a need to reconfigure traditional open-air jeepneys to meet minimum health standards.

“Napakalaki ng risk sa jeepneys dahil ang kanilang sakay ay face to face hindi katulad doon sa bus parang mga upuan na hindi magkakaharap,” Vergeire said.

Old model of public jeepneys are not yet allowed to resume operations under the general community quarantine, based on the guidelines released by the Inter-Agency Task Force.

Modern jeepneys and buses have been allowed to ply the roads again at a limited capacity to accommodate the volume of commuters who have been permitted to return to work amid the crisis.

Malacañang earlier said that the ban on traditional jeepneys may be lifted if the present number of modern jeepneys and buses are insufficient to ferry passengers.

The Department of Transportation also said it is still crafting the guidelines for the resumption of traditional jeepney operations. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Vincent Arboleda)

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