Why commuters failed to practice ‘social distancing’ even when told to do so amid community quarantine

March 16, 2020 - 3:53 PM
Commuters in Metro Manila
Commuters wait for public transport as Metro Manila enters its second day of community quarantine amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (The STAR/Edd Gumban)

(UPDATED 8:48 p.m.) Social distancing was not observed in the commute of most Filipinos as the National Capital Region enters its second day of community quarantine amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

This was seen through the posts of different on-the-ground reporters who took videos and photos of the situation from various parts of the metro, particularly this morning as people travel to their respective workplaces.

A report from CNN Philippines showed Filipinos queuing at the Quezon Avenue Station of Metro Rail Transit-Line 3 (MRT-3) where the line has reached beyond the staircase of the station.

“Commuters did not practice social distancing of one meter,” the post observed.

Another report from ABS-CBN News featured sourced photos of Filipinos cramped in the Light Rail Transit-Line 1 (LRT-1), particularly in Balintawak Station.

Commuters in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City similarly had a hard time securing public transport, as reported by ANC 24/7. One picture showed Filipinos clamoring to alight a bus while the conductor attempted to control the crowd.

The lack of implementation of social distancing in public transport prompted some commuters to express their concerns about the matter since the government imposed the directive as preventive measures against the outbreak.

“This is just too alarming. While riding the bus from Pasay to Cubao after an 8-hour clinic duty, inexpect ko na ‘yung rules being implemented by the DOTr regarding social distancing will be followed by PUVs (public utility vehicles),” a Facebook user claiming to work in a private clinic said.

This is just too alarming 😢😢While riding the bus from Pasay to Cubao after an 8-hour clinic duty, inexpect ko na yung…

Posted by Dan Jacob Resurreccion on Sunday, March 15, 2020


Another commuter shared a video of what he encountered below MRT-3’s Araneta-Cubao Station this morning.

This is Metro Manila Now! Community Quarantine Day 2

Posted by Jj Martinez on Sunday, March 15, 2020


Renato Reyes Jr, the secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, attributed the lack of social distancing practice to the “mass transport crisis” that has plagued Filipinos even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kapag ang isang health emergency ay sinabayan ng mass transport crisis, mas nagiging malaki ang risk ng transmission dahil naiipon ang tao o nagsisiksikan sa mga limitadong sasakyan. Hindi madali ang social distancing ‘pag ganito limitado ang modes of transport,” he tweeted.

RELATED: Why Panelo’s suggestion to ‘leave early’ sounds insensitive to commuters

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay said that the practice “will remain a privilege” if there are no “economic safety nets” among workers amid the health crisis.

“Hindi sila naghahanap ng sakit. Sila ay nagha hanap-buhay,” he said as he shared pictures of commuter crowds.

Travel restrictions

In a CNN Philippines interview, the traffic chief of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority admitted that social distancing in public transportation is a “challenge” since not all buses and jeeps can accommodate commuters who want to get to work on time.

This prompts them to ride the public transport without considering observance of social distancing practice.

Domestic travel restrictions have been in place as President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Metro Manila to be under “community quarantine” from March 15 to April 14 in a bid to control the spread of the virus.

Part of the restrictions are limits on the number of passengers that a public transport can take to maintain social distance since COVID-19 is a highly communicable disease.

Guidelines have been released by the Department of Transportation which included reduced passenger capacities for buses, jeepneys, taxis and the UV express.

Transit systems are also regulating its passengers per train coach while railings and handles are disinfected and sanitized.

Other jeepney drivers are also gaining traction for their innovation. Driver Federico “Boy” Tiozen Jr. was lauded for implementing the practice by placing recycled boxes in his jeep to prevent passengers from being close to each other.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines social distancing as the practice of “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

RELATED: Why some are saying ‘social distancing’ is a privilege

Some groups said that the practice is a privilege as they cited factors like the current state of the mass transport system and working conditions of Filipinos who cannot afford a remote arrangement.

Labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino said that social distancing is impossible considering the “present state of the metro’s transportation and urban planning.”

On Monday afternoon, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that Duterte expanded the community quarantine to include the entire Luzon. According to reports, the measure now called “enhanced community quarantine” would suspend public transportation.

READ: Duterte places Luzon under ‘enhanced community quarantine.’ What does this mean?