GOVERNMENT has decided to slowly reopen the country after weeks of locking down large swathes of it to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the coronavirus, which causes the disease. It is part of the delicate balancing act I noted in a previous column, which is to prevent the further spread of the virus on one side and to prevent the total collapse of the economy on the other.
The balancing act now would be to lift the lockdown restrictions while continuing to ensure that the further spread of the disease would be prevented. That could not be done by magic but by thorough preparation. Government officials talk about the so-called “new normal,” but are clueless on the things needed to put that new normal in place.
For example, the transport sector. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) came up with rules and guidelines on the gradual lifting of restrictions without considering the impact of those rules and guidelines on the entire transport sector. Those rules and guidelines are supposedly meant to be part of the new normal.
The diktat on physical distancing, for example, can’t be imposed automatically considering the setup in that sector before the lockdowns. The operation of private utility vehicles in the country survives largely by profiting from the thickness of the country’s population. Take away that point and the transport sector collapses.
Conversely, the population that the transport sector feeds on is not like the one in highly industrialized countries. It is largely composed of the poor and marginalized that do not have the resources to nourish the sector. This is why transport operators are struggling to even modernize their operations because of this reality.
I don’t know how transport operators can survive with a public utility vehicle allowed to only bring one half of the passengers it carried during normal times. And with the LTO and law enforcers lacking the personnel to impose the protocols, the said protocols will end up largely unimposed in the end. Note that in the past, overloading was a problem that authorities could not solve.
As a commuter, I would say that riding in a less crowded public utility vehicle would be good. But I know that it is not sustainable because of the utter lack of private utility vehicles in our streets. Raising fares would also not work if salaries are not raised. And with the lack of profitability, many transport operators would shy away from the sector.
And we are only talking about the transport sector. There are actually other businesses that could be pulled down by the protocols we want to impose under the new normal. And what about housing? The setup in urban communities definitely needs a reimagining to lessen their vulnerability to pandemics. If not, then it would not be difficult to see a repeat of what is happening now.
To think that the new normal would magically happen without much effort and by just continuously imposing the protocols and restrictions is to think wrong. Sadly, this seems to be how government is thinking nowadays.