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No Vaccine, No Ride: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

No Vaccine, No Ride: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Mikko David

Seven days have passed since the national government, through the Department of Transportation, implemented its “No Vaccine, No Ride” policy in the National Capital Region.

Backed by supporting resolutions from the Local Government Units of Metro Manila which state that unvaccinated individuals are not allowed to leave their homes, the DOTr saw it right to bar unvaccinated persons from taking public transportation such as buses, trains, boats and even planes coming in and out of the region. And one week into its run, the controversial measure has drawn so much flak from various sectors which begs the question, “Is this the right thing to do?”

This is not the first time a government has imposed mobility restrictions on its unvaccinated citizens. Austria was one of the first to impose a lockdown on its unvaccinated citizens. Other countries such as Greece, France, Italy and the United Kingdom have either enacted mandates or imposed restrictions on their unvaccinated citizens effectively forcing them to get the anti-COVID-19 jab. The State, after all, has the inherent right to protect its citizens.

The recent surge in daily infection numbers which welcomed the new year, and was reportedly caused by the Omicron variant, has almost crippled our day-to-day operations. Quarantine periods have removed people from the streets and have pushed them into isolation.

The DOTr, in its infinite wisdom, has seen that unvaccinated people should not be allowed to board public transportation. While many see this as discriminatory and even anti-poor, as the government is seemingly alienating a specific sector of the society from availing of a basic service such as transportation, there is also another angle that many have missed out in this issue.

Whether you have not gotten vaccinated either because of a valid medical reason or by choice, have you ever thought that perhaps the government is saving you from getting infected while commuting?

Think about it, the mobile among us, the fully vaccinated, are apparently not that immune from the Omicron variant as vaccine proponents have hoped.

Fully vaccinated people make up a sizable number of COVID-19 infections in the past three weeks. Those who have been vaccinated and boosted were led to believe they could now go out, shop, and attend family reunions all because they were protected from COVID-19. And so they did.

Now it turns out, even the fully vaccinated among us can either be mild or even asymptomatic carriers of the virus. And guess who is allowed to take public transportation now in Alert Level 3 Metro Manila? Oh right, those who are fully vaccinated.

This comical, yet sad reality is even seen in airline travel where some passengers, who are presumably vaccinated because otherwise they would not be allowed to board the plane, are the ones turning up positive with the virus in RT-PCR tests at their country of destination.

So you see, even the fully vaccinated can be vectors of the disease. And while it has been proven that they may not suffer as bad as an unvaccinated person, or that they have a higher chance of not landing in the hospital and requiring expensive mechanical ventilation and high-priced medicines, the vaccinated can still be an unwilling carrier. And it will be the unvaccinated who will have the higher probability of getting intubated, or worse, die of the disease.

The way this “No Vax, No Ride” policy has been implemented in the past week through the supposed oversight of Public Utility Vehicle drivers, the imposition of fines on them from P1,000 to P10,000 for violating the directive and letting an unvaccinated person ride, through police checkpoints and thorough inspections of vaccination cards and IDs, still does not completely eliminate the threat of infection.

For all you know, the person already seated next to you in that bus, jeep or MRT train is fully vaccinated yet infected and asymptomatic. And you with your fake vaccination certificate, thinking you could get away with it, will actually get infected. Now isn’t that ironic?

Moreover, how can a bus or jeepney driver even ascertain the legitimacy of any document, let alone any verbal pronouncement? Is that their job? Shouldn’t the government field properly trained marshals who will do all the inspecting in every bus and jeepney stop, even sea and airport in the metropolis? Impractical you say? Well, this is what this policy really is.

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Implementing the unimplementable has always been a trademark DOTr move of late. Remember when we had to all get RFIDs for our vehicles in a short time span because the department thought it would help reduce the chances of COVID-19 spread through cash transactions?

How about when it implemented mandatory vehicle inspection through Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Centers a year ago even when most PMVICs were not operational yet? This is yet another misstep in a series of shoot-from-the-hip measures the government has implemented throughout this pandemic.

With this policy’s numerous exemptions such as for Alert Level 3-permitted workers who probably make up most of the riders of PUVs, for home-bound persons who ride ferries and planes, and that all-encompassing excuse of buying essential goods, what then is the point of having this policy at all?

But kudos still to the DOTr for being headstrong in railroading its plans and programs. Its political will is truly commendable. Especially with a populace who will always complain whatever measure is undertaken.

However, the DOTr and even the LGUs may have had a better chance at enjoining the transportation stakeholders if they instead consulted them thoroughly throughout the policy formation process. Consultation has been thoroughly lacking all this time of dealing with the pandemic. Now more than ever, we need to hear the various voices of the economically affected in society all the way down to street-level as we attempt to recover from the strains brought about by the lockdowns.

And while it is our civic duty to trust the government and obey its policies to control the spread of the virus, we should also be more vigilant and discerning of the measures it undertakes. Especially when it trounces our freedoms and punishes us for our individual choices.