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Do we still have to practice self restraint in travel?

I took this photo this morning as I was coming home from the market. Ever since Metro Manila, Antipolo and other areas around the NCR transitioned into General Community Quarantine (GCQ) and Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), a lot of people have been going out and taking group rides on motorcycles and bicycles as if there was no pandemic hanging around. I understand that a lot of people have been holed in their homes for quite some time now but these trips seem excessive considering many are cross-town or even inter-provincial trips that are long in terms of distance and times traveled.

Motorcycle group traveling along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

I posted the same photo on social media to solicit reactions or comments. I asked the question of whether these trips are necessary. So far, I only got a couple of sad face reactions and a couple of comments. The sad face reactions included one from a cycling advocate. I know the person to be very passionate about bicycle commuting but also advised vs. group rides during MECQ and GCQ. I guess the point here is that we seem to be lowering our guard against Covid-19 and to me these trips (i.e., long rides, group rides) are unnecessary trips. While there seems to be no spikes in infections due to these rides, we don’t know really as data is poorly collected and analyzed. For those who don’t give a damn, I give the analogy of road safety, many situations of reckless driving or riding do not necessarily lead to a crash but the high potential for one means it is something waiting to happen. The same applies to these rides where there might be one, just one, asymptomatic rider who can potentially spread Covid-19. Maybe those infected will be asymptomatic, too. However, others they are in contact with may not be and become seriously ill. So until we do have a vaccine vs. Covid-19 and many are vaccinated already, I would advise against these unnecessary trips.

 

Of inequitable allocations and accessibility

In the news recently were figures released supposedly by Philhealth showing the top hospitals receiving reimbursements from the agency for claims relating to COVID-19. Southern Philippines Medical Center, a hospital in Davao City received 326M pesos while UP-PGH got 263.3M pesos.  I was not surprised that my social media newsfeed included posts from both sides of the fence (The fence sitters among my friends on social media were not commenting about these anymore and seem content in just posting on food or whatever activity they were in.). Each were posting information divulged by the whistleblowers in the ongoing hearings on the issues pertaining to PhilHealth funds.

I will not go into the political aspect of this controversy but will just focus on the transportation aspects of the issue.  I will just compare the top two hospitals in the list to simplify the assessment while mentioning others in general.

The claim that the hospital in Davao was the equivalent of PGH in Mindanao doesn’t hold water as the hospital does not treat even 10% of the cases that PGH is handling and for a much smaller geographical area. While UP-PGH is accessible to a larger population and for less travel times, SPMC is not as accessible to say people coming from other major cities like Cagayan De Oro or Zamboanga City. Yes, there are other major cities on the same island that have sizable populations with ‘catchment’ or influence areas comparable to Davao City. They, too, probably need funds to be able to treat COVID-19 patients. It is true that there are many other hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) that have the facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. However, many of these are private hospitals that tend to incur more costs for the patient and are not generally accessible (read: affordable) to most people who are of middle and low incomes. Thus, UP-PGH can be regarded as the frontliner among frontline hospitals.

What? There are other public or government hospitals in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces? True, but many of those have very limited capacities in terms of facilities and Human Resources. The same applies to Davao’s case as well because there are also medical centers and hospitals in surrounding provinces. And to round-out the resources available to these hospitals, local government units have also (over) extended their resources to hospitals. Perhaps the allocations and proportions can be explained in another way that is not the “apologist” but based on actual numbers pertaining to cases handled by the hospitals?

On the benefits of shared roads during the pandemic

There is evidence, and they are increasing, for the benefits of shared roads. Here is another quick share of an article supporting that:

Brown, M (2020) “Shared-use roads improve physical distancing, research shows,” Medical Xpress, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-shared-use-roads-physical-distancing.html%5BLast accessed: 7/30/2020]

With the situation in the Philippines and particularly in Metro Manila appearing to be worsening rather than improving, national and local governments should take heed of the evidence for shared-use roads and the importance of active transport to ensure people’s mobility will not be hampered. This is particularly important for our frontliners and other essential workers if we are to survive this pandemic.

On bike shares and the pandemic

We begin August 2020 with another article I want to share. Here is another article on cycling, this time on bike share:

Kanik, A. (2020) “The decisions cities made about coronavirus had a big impact on bikeshare ridership,” citymetric.com, https://www.citymetric.com/transport/decisions-cities-made-about-coronavirus-had-big-impact-bike-share-ridership-5218[Last accessed: 7/29/2020]

Our university’s bike share program currently dedicated their bikes for the use of frontliners. Outside UP Diliman, only the City of Pasig has a bike share program. Is it somewhat surprising that these are the only bike shares we know in the country? It should be, considering the potential of bike shares and cycling as a mode of transport for mobility. In fact, two cities, Marikina and Iloilo, which pride themselves having formal bikeways (Marikina even has an extensive bikeway network that began 20 years ago.) have no bike share programs. Is the concept or perhaps the lack of facilities to encourage people to bike safely that is absent and therefore need to be provided?  With the surge of bike users post-lockdown, there should be evidence that bike shares can work but only if cities work on it, too.

 

File photo of Iloilo City’s bikeway along the Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave. (formerly Diversion Road) taken in 2015.

On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On the DOTr Guidelines for Public Transport – Aviation Sector

Here are the guidelines for the Aviation Sector. My only comment here is that many people are anxious about when they can travel again, particularly to other parts of the country mainly for business or to go home (e.g., many students have been stranded in the cities where they go to school and away from their hometowns). Part of this anxiety is the thinking that airfares will increase significantly as airlines are forced to reduce capacities for their aircraft to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Gone, probably, are the discount fares like the Piso fare promos.

Related to this, I have received emails from 4 airlines I frequently used – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines. All provided updates on their respective efforts to ensure the future air travel will be safe, health-wise. As for the airport terminals, that’s another story…

On the DOTr for Public Transport – Maritime Sector

Here’s a continuation of the set of guidelines issued by the Department of Transportation for transport operations for areas that are or will be under the General Community Quarantine (GCQ). Again, I try to refrain from making any critiques or comments, and post this for information and reference.

On public transport services during the pandemic

I’ve read a lot of discussions and recommendations pertaining to public transportation services (mainly its lack thereof) during the Enhanced Community Quarantine aka lockdown in most parts of the Philippines. Problem is, a lot of people had their mobility curtailed as most people did not have their own private vehicles (cars or motorcycles) to do essential trips (i.e., for groceries, market, drugstores, hospitals, etc.). These include so-called frontline workers, most especially those working in hospitals or clinics. Even the use of tricycles on a limited basis while adhering to physical distancing guideline was not allowed in many cities and municipalities. What do we really need to do now and in transition to address the lack of public transport services?

Here is a concise yet very informative article on transit:

Walker, J. (2020) “Cutting Transit Service During the Pandemic: Why? How? And What’s Next?”, Human Transit, https://humantransit.org/2020/04/cutting-transit-service-during-the-pandemic-why-how-and-whats-next.html [Last accessed: 4/23/2020]

Most of the points discussed and recommendations presented are applicable to our case in the Philippines. We should also accept the fact that we cannot go back to the situation prior to the ECQ, and that the new normal calls for a reduction in car use. Meanwhile, we still have to address the pressing issues and come up with a plan or maybe strategies for public transport that involved not just buses and trains but other modes as well like the jeepneys, vans and tricycles.

Planning for the new normal – post Covid-19

There have been many discussions lately about urban planning and transport planning in relation to the pandemic currently gripping the world. There are opinions and assessments about topics such as population density, employment, public transportation, physical or social distance, as well as the prospects for reducing car dependence.

Here is a nice article that compiles some of the better articles on planning related to the current Covid-19 pandemic that’s affecting our planet:

Brasuell, J. (2020) Debating the Future of Cities, and Urban Densities, After the Pandemic, planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/108814?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-03232020&mc_cid=a891454817&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed 3/24/2020].

The world will never be the same after what everyone has gone through during this pandemic. Let us not wish we could go back to normal because, as the saying goes, that “normal” was what got us here in the first place.

Keep safe everyone!

About the weather and other thoughts this weekend

We interrupt our regular posts with an article on the current state of the weather and some thoughts while a super typhoon (Mangkut) was devastating the northern and central Philippines. First the article from Wired:

Rogers, A. (2018) An Equator Full of Hurricanes Shows a Preview of End Times, http://www.wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/an-equator-full-of-hurricanes-shows-a-preview-of-end-times/?CNDID=37243643&mbid=nl_091418_daily_list1_p4 [Last accessed: 9/15/2018]

I am not into doomsday articles and thinking but am always fascinated by it if has foundations in science and fact rather than of religion or the “prepper” type of thinking. This one is based on fact and should not be dismissed as “fake new” – an excuse many use if the information presented to them offers an inconvenient truth about our state of affairs or, in this case, state of the earth.

Gloomy weather brought about by Typhoon Mangkut

I was thinking about the bad weather and what previous strong typhoons have brought about early this morning as I was awaken by the sound of the strong winds and the heavy rains that followed. I easily come awake and cannot sleep whenever we have inclement weather. Its been like this since my childhood as our home was in a flood prone area.

The last times there were typhoons comparable in perceived and actual physical impacts, the socio-political impacts also eventually manifested. Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) in 2009 dumped record rainfall across a wide area that included Metro Manila, Central Luzon (Region 3) and Southern Luzon (Region 4A). The government’s response then and the issues that came about afterwards essentially contributed much to the doom for many of the administration’s candidates in the 2010 elections including its standard bearer who was Defense Secretary at the time. The follies of many politicians and government agencies were also exposed and most people judged them for that in the elections.

Come 2013, another typhoon, Haiyan (Yolanda), laid waste to much of the central Philippines. It was a super typhoon that again caught most, especially government, unprepared for the devastation that was its outcome. It spelled disaster, too, to many political aspirations with the then Interior Secretary becoming the poster boy somewhat for the government’s failures. Apparently, many of the lessons of Ondoy were not heeded despite gains here and there in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness. But then these were perceived to be more on the side of politicians. There were no lack in politicking, self promotion and grandstanding. And there was even more drama among rival sides in Philippine politics. There was enough material for fodder come 2016.

The current administration is much aware of the issues and the dangers of playing into the same script. After all, they created much of the political storm that led to an almost complete defeat of the previous admin’s ticket (the current VP survived that and hopefully gets to finish her term instead of being replaced by the ambitious son of a former dictator). But the present set of leaders and wannabees are not lacking for distasteful maneuvers as relief goods are being prepared by government agencies and local government units bearing the name (and sometimes even face) of aspirants for electoral posts in the 2019 elections. Among these are a Presidential “alalay” who is somewhat desperate for a senate post if only to protect himself from charges once his sponsor(s) bow down from power.

Will Mangkut/Ompong effect positive change in the country? Perhaps so and we can only hope it will be for the better. And that we, as a people, learn from mistakes we have made including electing certain people who are not fit or qualified to lead us.