Año says he prefers 1-meter physical distancing in public transports

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2020 08:26 AM | Updated as of Sep 14 2020 02:57 PM

Commuters wear face shields as they take the MRT-3 on August 19, 2020 amid the return of Metro Manila under general community quarantine. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The co-chairperson of the National Task Force against COVID-19 said he prefers the 1-meter physical distancing measure in public transport as authorities on Monday eased the policy to accommodate more commuters.

The transportation department made the proposal to ease physical distancing in public vehicles to 0.75 meter from 1 meter following "clamor from the economic sector," said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who contracted the virus twice.

Although the proposal has been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the pandemic, the health sector will present its "argument" to the task force on Tuesday, Año added.

"Personally, I’d like to abide by the 1 meter standard, if we can actually provide more transport to our people, rather than reducing the distance," he told ANC, adding that he was not able to attend the meeting where it was approved but that he "manifested my reservation."

"That is subject to further discussion, especially because the health sector is going to present their argument tomorrow."

Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv

When asked if the health department approved the proposal, Año said it proposed additional measures like "wearing of face mask, face shield, and absolutely no talking, no removing of mask, no answering of phone."

The NTF is also proposing to require public vehicles to install "some sort of barrier in between passengers," Año said.

Marshals will monitor the public vehicle and QR codes, passenger forms will be required, and CCTVs will be used for contact-tracing as close contact is defined as the interaction of a person with another in a distance of less than 1 meter within 15 minutes, according to Año.

"We’re encouraging everyone to cooperate. This is a problem where everyone is concerned and is a personal responsibility," he said.

The current contact tracing ratio in Metro Manila is 1 virus patient to 15 close contacts, Año said. The figure is lower than the recommended 1:30 to 1:37 ratio by contact tracing czar and Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong.

The reduction of physical distancing between passengers is "problematic," infectious disease Dr. Edsel Salvana earlier said.

He quoted a study which states: "Case isolation, contact tracing, and physical distancing are pillars of COVID-19 pandemic control, not optional choices."

"The proposal to decrease the distance in public transport to less than one meter is problematic. If there is a SINGLE COVID-19 positive person in the transport, anyone less than one meter from him/her after 15 minutes becomes a close contact who will need to quarantine and can potentially spread disease," he said on Sunday.

The Philippines, as of Sept. 13, reported 261,216 cases of COVID-19, with 4,371 deaths and 207,568 recoveries.