COVID hot zones

COVID hot zones

With hundreds of railway employees downed by COVID-19, authorities must ensure that those who return to work are tested and cleared when limited services resume today. As of last Thursday, the Department of Transportation reported that 94 more railway personnel had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 630.

Regular testing – accessible even to the poor, and with swift results, instead of a wait of two to three days – is the key to reviving the economy without resorting to periodic lockdowns when COVID cases spike. Testing is essential particularly in mass transportation, where viruses can circulate and passengers can stay in the vehicles long enough to catch the pathogen.

Just one infected worker or passenger can spread the virus. And with more infectious variants now spreading uncontrolled, the rate of transmission in just one railway car or public utility vehicle can be staggering.

Jeepneys in particular have tossed out distancing protocols, with operators insisting that reducing the number of passengers for health safety cuts too much into their earnings. Temperature scans have been forgotten. Plastic sheets continue to separate passengers, but how often are the sheets disinfected?

As of the last count, there were 206 confirmed infections in the Metro Rail Transit Line 3. The Philippine National Railways, whose commuter trains are often packed with people, had 157 cases. The Light Rail Transit Line 2 had 144 infections while the LRT-1 had the fewest cases, at 123. More railway personnel still have to be tested even as the PNR prepares to resume operations today.

With COVID cases surging, the government may have to revive efforts to encourage people to take bicycles to work. In crowded Metro Manila in particular, pollution, the tropical heat and occasional rains made bicycles largely a stop-gap means for many people to go to and from work in the early months of the pandemic. When mass transport services resumed, many readily ditched their bicycles. This time, with mass transport units becoming COVID hot zones, it would be safer to bring out the bicycles again.