MANILA--Passengers should still sit at least 1 meter apart whenever possible and travel only when necessary, a group of doctors said Monday, warning that the government's decision to ease restrictions in public transportation could trigger a surge in COVID-19 cases.
An inter-agency task force earlier approved a Department of Transportation recommendation to reduce minimum physical distancing to 0.75 meters to accommodate more passengers and lessen the pandemic's economic impact on drivers and operators.
"Masyadong maaga pa at malamang na dumami lalo ang kaso at bumagal ang recovery natin kung gawin natin ito ngayon," said Dr. Antonio Dans of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC).
(It's too early to do this now and cases might increase further and recovery might slow down.)
The Philippines had nearly 50,000 active cases out of a total of 261,216 cases as of Sunday, raising concerns that allowing more passengers in public utility vehicles could lead to more infections.
The HPAAC urged commuters to use face masks and face shields and avoid talking while taking public transportation. They should also open windows and pick low-traffic periods during the day whenever possible.
"Kung kaunti ang pasahero, ituloy nyo pa rin yung 1-meter distancing or even farther," Dans said in an online forum.
"Umubo o bumahing nang tama, 'wag naman sa mukha ng katabi nyo. Takpan ang bibig."
(If there are few passengers, continue observing a physical distance of 1 meter or even farther. Observe proper etiquette when coughing or sneezing. Cover your mouth.)
Dans said his group had submitted a model to the government task force to help predict how the reduced physical distancing in public transportation could affect the rate of COVID-19 transmission.
"Masasabi ko sa inyo, sigurado dadami. Ang tanong, ilan?" said Dans, whose group earlier appealed for a "timeout" to allow hospitals to deal with the rising number of cases.
(I can tell you that cases will increase, for sure. But the question is, how many?)
The call prompted the government to place Metro Manila and 4 neighboring provinces under the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine for 2 weeks last month.
Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña, an infectious diseases specialist from the Philippine General Hospital, said the government should have tried the reduced physical distancing policy in pilot areas first.
"I do not think a broad rollout with ever decreasing distances in a matter of weeks is prudent," he said in a Facebook post.
"We need to wait at least 2 to 4 weeks from initial pilot implementation to properly see any spikes in cases since we know it takes time for people to develop disease."