If you're in a GCQ area, you can breathe a little easier. You can drive around a bit more so long as you follow proper social distancing and other government advisories to control the spread of COVID-19.
But as with anything, there have to be guidelines to cover all foreseeable and relevant aspects of daily life in light of the pandemic. And one of the most important ones is mobility.
Last week the Land Transportation Office (LTO) released Memorandum Circular 2020-2185, otherwise known as Guidelines in the enforcement of regulations issued by the Department of Transportation relative to the operation of Land Transportation in the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) areas.
In it, the LTO outlined all the rules that they will be enforcing in the GCQ areas and will encompass private vehicles, for-hire vehicles, and even government vehicles.
The MC specifies sanitary requirements for public vehicles like mandating that drivers and conductors wear face masks, recommend the use of automatic fare collection systems (i.e. Beep card), a requirement to disinfect public utility vehicles at the end of each trip (particularly 'high-touch' areas like grab handles), sealing off the driver's seat from the rest of the passengers, so on and so forth.
The Memorandum Circular also outlines social distancing and sanitation requirements at PUV terminals and the like. The MC states that public transport vehicles should only be loaded to 50% capacity (buses, jeepneys), setting a maximum of 2 passengers per row on UV Express shuttles, taxis and TNVS units, and orders tricycles to only carry one passenger.
But one provision caught our eye: Article III, Section 4-b. It states that “All drivers and passengers of private and government vehicles must wear face masks at all times.”
On face value (no pun intended), it means we all must wear masks when we're driving in a GCQ area, but it makes no distinction between a fully occupied vehicle under the guidelines (i.e. passenger car: 4 pax maximum) or when it is just the driver inside. So the question is this: if you're driving in a GCQ area alone in your car, will you be apprehended by the LTO or other LTO-deputized officers?
We reached out to LTO Executive Director Romeo Vera Cruz for comment on the matter, and he clarified that it will only be applied if there is more than one person in a private vehicle in a GCQ area.
"Common sense dictates that it only applies when there are passengers, at least in so far as LTO is concerned," said LTO ED Vera Cruz. "The Circular would be too verbose if we still have to state the obvious. Anyway the Circular is a guide to our enforcers. We will regularly remind them."
So, if you're driving solo in a GCQ area, you won't be apprehended or hassled for not wearing your mask inside your own vehicle. But if you have passengers (i.e. family members) with you, masks are required based on MC 2020-2185.
Also, that means that all passengers in any government vehicle in a GCQ area will have to wear masks too.
We brought up with ED Vera Cruz that there is going to be some negativity against the LTO for this particular guideline especially now since everyone has a bit more time on their hands and are looking for outlets for some smart aleck comments.
"Unfortunately, it is in our nature but we just have to be patient but firm. We are under a national emergency." said the Executive Director of the LTO.