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Traditional jeepneys likely to be safer from virus spread than air-conditioned ones – Ibon

By: Gabriel Pabico Lalu - INQUIRER.net June 24,2020 - 07:22 AM

MANILA, Philippines –  Traditional jeepneys, which have no air conditioning, may be more viable safer for public transportation than modernized, air-conditioned ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, think-tank group Ibon Foundation said in a statement issued last Sunday.

According to the group, the government’s belief that traditional jeepneys present a hazard of coronavirus transmission due to the seating arrangement are unfounded, especially since a lot of studies suggest that air conditioners may contribute to the spread of the disease.

“The traditional open-air jeepney is likely even safer against COVID-19 than its air-conditioned modernized counterpart. With the pandemic still ongoing, insisting on jeepney modernization unnecessarily puts commuters at risk of possible airborne coronavirus infections,” Ibon said.

“Most coronavirus transmissions are acknowledged to occur via droplet infection, from coughing and sneezing, and partly through contaminated surfaces.  Nonetheless, recent studies show that the number of pathogens increases considerably in enclosed spaces and that regular ventilation reduces the risk of infection,” the group added.

Last Sunday, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) announced that modern jeepneys would now be allowed to operate in Metro Manila starting last Monday, with 15 initial routes.

Then, LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra III clarified that traditional jeepneys and UV Express vehicles were still being considered for operation, although he admitted that they were the lower end of the pecking order due to the risks that they present.

According to Delgra, modern jeepneys have a bigger space and a seating arrangement similar to buses where passengers are not forced to face each other.

However, Ibon noted that some coronavirus transmissions happened through air circulation — meaning, air moving through an enclosed space with the help of air-conditioning units.

“Recent studies show that the number of pathogens increases considerably in enclosed spaces and that regular ventilation reduces the risk of infection,” Ibon said.

“Despite physical distancing, enclosed modern jeepneys can become centers for spreading the virus compared to the natural ventilation of traditional jeepneys, said the group,” the group added.

In a study last April conducted in China — where the latest coronavirus strain originated — scientists looked at cases where droplet transmissions were aided by air-conditioning, like in a case where the virus moved across three tables in a restaurant in Wuhan.

The patient with the coronavirus was able to infect members of two families seated in adjacent tables placed a meter away from each other.

Due to such concerns, some public utility vehicles — like those in Cebu — have been ordered to operate with windows open and without air-conditioning. But in Metro Manila, a lot of buses now operating are still making trips with windows closed and air-con systems on.

Recently, Ibon Foundation also said that jeepney drivers had already lost P78,000 worth of possible income since the lockdown forced the suspension of public transport — or around P26,000 per month.

“With COVID-19 still spreading, traditional jeepneys have the advantage of being open-air, dissipating droplets with the virus faster, and lowering the risk of transmission,” Ibon said.

“Yet the government’s narrow-minded focus on corporate-driven jeepney modernization threatens to forego this important built-in advantage in the mass transport system,” it added. /atm

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