As gov't eases distancing rules in public transport, DOH reiterates 'stay at home' advice

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2020 12:42 PM

The MRT-3 starts to accommodate more passengers, up to 204 from 153 per train, on Sept. 14, 2020 due to the newly implemented 0.75-meter physical distancing measurement between passengers. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Department of Health on Monday advised Filipinos to just stay at home if they don’t really need to go out as the government reduces the distance required between public transport passengers.

During a virtual briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the agency values “the protection of lives and livelihoods” as well as the need “for spurring economic recovery.”

“The Department of Transportation, being the lead agency, shall be responsible for issuing and enforcing transport guidelines to ensure that the public’s health and safety shall not be compromised,” Vergeire said, reading a DOH statement. 

She added, “Stay at home when you don’t need to go out”, and specifically appealed to senior citizens and those who are immunocompromised or ill to heed the advice.

The DOH did not categorically state if reducing the distance between passengers was advisable, but it asked “all Filipinos to be extra vigilant in situations where distancing cannot be practiced, and if possible choose to participate in activities or use transport options that can afford at least 1 meter distancing.”

When pressed for DOH’s stand on the matter, Vergeire said that discussions are still ongoing and they are just awaiting any outcome. 

Vergeire reminded the public to wear masks and face shields, and to continue practicing handwashing and physical distancing. “Based on evidence, the level of protection increases when the practices are combined.”

In a tweet, former adviser of the national task force on COVID-19 response Dr. Tony Leachon said, “There’s no categorical statement from DOH to oppose the DOTr on these flawed public transport guidelines. The DOH statement is weak, confusing and arbitrary, and sends wrong and mixed messages to the community.”

Leachon earlier told ANC that the government’s decision to reduce the distance of passengers from each other to 0.75 meter is “a risky and confusing and counter-intuitive measure.” It is also against the World Health Organization guideline of 1 meter.

Leachon pointed out that other health institutions abroad recommend distances of up to 2 meters.

“Nowhere in the world literature that I went around to read that less than 1 meter would be beneficial in terms of risk reduction for prevention of COVID,” he said.

"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," Dr. Edsel Salvaña, an infectious disease doctor at the Philippine General Hospital, also said on Sunday.

The Philippines' coronavirus infections tally has breached 261,000 on Sunday, of which, nearly 50,000 are active cases.