MANILA — The Philippines on Monday eased distancing rules meant to contain the coronavirus pandemic in public vehicles, to which some infections were previously traced.
The transportation department earlier said physical distancing could be adjusted to 0.75 meters from 1 meter, effective Monday, since health protocols such as the use of face masks and face shields were being enforced.
At the MRT, each train set can now carry up to 204 passengers, up from 153. Thirty people can wait on the platforms while up to 45 others wait outside the turnstiles.
For jeepneys and buses, reducing physical distancing means standing passengers "may be accommodated," the DOTr said. More passengers will also be allowed entry in airports and seaports, it said.
Some passengers, however, were wary that the reduced distance from other commuters might increase their risk of catching COVID-19.
“‘Pag binawasan nila iyong distancing, baka lalo pang dumami,” said a commuter who requested to be identified only as “Jomer.”
(If they reduce the distance, the cases might increase.)
There is no study showing that protection against the virus will stay the same if physical distancing is reduced while one is wearing a face shield and mask, said Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a clinical associate professor at the Philippine General Hospital.
"Hindi naman po natin sinasabing hindi puwede. Pero dahil wala pa tayong magandang ebidensya, siguro dapat hindi po biglaan dahil baka magkaroon tayo ng problema talaga,” said Salvana, who is also director of University of the Philippines Manila's Institute of Molecular Biology.
(We are not saying that it is not possible. But because we have no good evidence yet, perhaps it should not have been sudden because we might have a problem.)
"Kung magkamali po tayo, marami talagang madidisgrasya," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(If we are wrong, many could suffer.)
The World Health Organization urges the public to maintain at least 1 meter of distance from other people to dodge the novel coronavirus.
"When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person has the disease," it reasoned.
Regulators eased distancing rules because Metro Manila and nearby areas are gearing for "the ‘new normal’ where more workers are expected to return to their re-opened work places and more businesses are expected to resume operations,” Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said last week.
Most forms of public transport were allowed to operate under general community quarantine, the second most lenient lockdown level, with reduced capacity and strict health protocols.
The MRT in July temporarily closed after at least 202 of its around 3,200 workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Metro Manila is under GCQ until Sept. 30.
The Philippines has the highest number of total cases in Southeast Asia despite implementing the longest and strictest lockdown in the region.
The health department on Sunday confirmed 3,372 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday bringing the country’s total to 261,216.
- With reports from Lyza Aquino, Jervis Manahan and Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News