Metro Manila has been in community quarantine for over 100 days and it looks like it still will be in the next several months. With the country now having over 36,000 confirmed cases and rising, the constant increase of COVID-19 infection may have been traced down to a specific kind of transmission.

The Clean Air Philippines Movement, Inc. (CAPMI), along with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) held a press conference this morning regarding the importance of road-worthiness of public utility vehicles (PUVs).

There, they explained the importance of the Republic Act 8749 – also known as the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999. As more and more modes of transportation have resumed operations in Metro Manila, Leo Olarte, president of CAPMI, said that the government needs to uphold the law more than ever with regards to smoke-belching vehicles that cause air pollution amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olarte mentioned air pollution not only causes respiratory and cardiovascular-related diseases in individuals, but the particular matter in air pollution can actually spread or increase the infection cases of COVID-19.

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Citing a working paper published by the World Bank Group called 'Incidence of COVID-19 and Connections with Air Pollution Exposure: Evidence from the Netherlands', a study was conducted wherein scientists were able to monitor how air pollution appears to help spread the contagious disease. Based on the paper, the fast spread of COVID-19 can be attributed to areas where high levels of air pollution are present. The results showed that atmospheric particular matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 is a highly significant predictor of the number of COVID-19 cases and related-hospital admissions.

With it, they estimated that expected COVID-19 cases increase by nearly 100% when air pollution concentrations increase by 20%. The results were obtained via ground-measurements, as well as satellite-derived atmospheric particulate matter measuring. With these findings, they are calling for further investigation into the matter between air pollution and SARS-CoV-2 infection risk.

With more vehicles returning to the streets of Metro Manila, there is now an increase in air pollution once again. Based on the World Bank Group's working paper, there should be more stringent mitigation strategies in order to lessen the chances of the disease from spreading. This is the reason why the CAPMI is adamant about enforcing the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.

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LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra said that R.A. 8749 has always been a part of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). Under it, all public transportation vehicles must follow emission standards in order for a cleaner, breathable air for everyone. The government agency planned to originally phase out older jeepneys last January 2020. But due to unforeseen circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic, they have decided to delay its phase-out.

Traditional PUJs are set to return to Metro Manila roads sometime this week, which means more air-pollutants will make their way up into the atmosphere. Combined with COVID-19 still posing a threat against public health, this could result in more infections and maybe the possibility of the disease spreading across Metro Manila and neighboring provinces at a bigger scale.

But with the working paper not yet completed, the scientists working on the study will need to further investigate if air pollution actually plays a significant role in the spread of COVID-19. If dirty air does have a big role in spreading not just COVID-19 but other diseases, automakers and governments may have to make some pretty big changes in the future.