By Johannes L. Chua
Illustration by Ariana Maralit
Fifty percent. That would be the byword in the coming weeks and months as long as there is the lingering threat of an unseen virus. Occupancy in restaurants or coffeeshops would already be considered “full” once it reaches the 50 percent threshold. Ditto also with retail spaces, parlors, spas, and every venue where people used to converge in huge numbers in the pre-Covid era.
The 50 percent capacity limit will also apply on all modes of transport. The latest guidelines from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) reveal how people will move from one point to another. “Bleak” as the guidelines may be, especially for those who rely on maximum numbers to make a trip worth it such as planes, buses, or jeepneys, it may be for the best for the majority in the meantime.
As areas graduate from MECQ to GCQ, from GCQ to the new normal, these are the expected “changes,” we will experience when we move around.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is still insisting that there shouldn’t be two passengers on board, even if they are married couples. This may change as cities gradually enter the new normal.
This two-person prohibition also applies to services such as Angkas, though their drivers can do deliveries instead with only the driver onboard.
For tricycles with a sidecar, only one passenger is allowed. A plastic cover must serve as partition between driver and passenger.
Bike lanes and “pop-up” lanes are now being introduced on various roads and highways, most notably along EDSA. Bikes will now be used for short-distance travel, promoting a cleaner (and healthier) way to move around.
The MMDA issued a statement saying number coding is “still suspended until June 5” except for Makati City. After that, the agency will implement on June 8 a “modified number coding scheme” requiring vehicles to have at least two passengers (driver plus one passenger)—which will only be in effect on your vehicle’s coding day. To put it clearly, you can still drive your vehicle alone on any day, except on its coding day.
Though they would still not be allowed to ply their routes as of the moment, a lot of steps are being done to make them ready for the new normal. Aside from the 50 percent passenger capacity, jeeps are required to put up covers (whether plastic or acrylic) in between passengers. Drivers have to wear masks too and devise a way to receive fare payment with the least physical contact possible. Modern PUVs, such as e-jeeps, can start moving on phase 2 of the GCQ on June 22.
We may see a resurgence of aircon-less buses with open windows (to aid in ventilation). Aside from physical distancing, safety protocols will be observed. Seat signs and tapes will be used to show where passengers should and shouldn’t sit. And, if this is a good thing, there will be no “standing-only” passengers. Buses may also observe a “one-in-one-out” policy to observe the 50 percent capacity rule.
According to latest DOTR guidelines, buses may only operate during Phase 2 of the GCQ, starting June 22. No provincial buses can enter Metro Manila as of the moment.
Rail (Train, LRT/ MRT)
At the rail terminals, platforms, and coaches, thorough cleaning will include regular disinfection of all rails and poles, entrance door handles, window ledges, and other touchpoints. Physical distancing will be observed, of which passengers will be continuously reminded via the presence of markings, signages, and tarpaulins scattered throughout the vicinity. The dire news to those who use the MRT daily is that the acceptance of passengers will be gradual (not more than 50 percent), so majority of its regular 300,000 passengers a day pre-Covid will have to wait longer or find other means of transport.
Taxis and transport network vehicle service (TNVS) such as Grab are now encouraged to only accept digital fare payment. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is requiring operators to ensure that their drivers (and passengers) are safe by minimizing direct physical contact as “cash bills may be contaminated with viruses for days.” Aside from wearing face masks, drivers are advised to put alcohol in the passenger area. As per DOTR, there can only be two passengers per row, with only one passenger on the driver’s row.
For the popular UV Express (vans or AUVs), which is used by office workers, load should not exceed two passengers per row. In the driver’s row, only one passenger is allowed.
Whether large ships, passenger ferries, or watercrafts, all water-based conveyances will now be subjected to a 50 percent onboard capacity limit, according to the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA). Social distancing markings must be placed in areas where passengers and crew converge. There will also be a mandatory temperature check, while handwashing areas and disinfecting foot baths will be present at a ships’ entry points.
Major airlines in the country and all over the world are now gearing up for the new normal. Though foreign travel will be minimal this year, efforts are done to push domestic travel. Sad news, though: Low airfares may be a thing of the past as airlines try to recuperate costs of flying at 50 percent capacity. But if it’s any consolation, it is likely that you will have no seatmate during the flight.
Airlines have also encouraged customers to purchase tickets online and to “self check-in” to minimize physical interaction.
Airline personnel will now look like the staff from a medical center as they will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), face masks and shields, and gloves. “Boo” for Covid-19 for taking the fun out of flying!