Relaxed coronavirus distancing in public transport a 'product of research': DOTr

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 15 2020 01:56 PM

Commuters ride a public jeepney in Manila on Sept. 14, 2020, as the transportation department eases the physical distancing rule in mass transport systems. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A proposal to ease physical distancing rules inside public transportation was a "product of research," despite the warning of several experts that this could spur infections, Transportation Secretary Art Tugade said Tuesday.

Before the required distancing was lowered to 0.75 meter from 1 meter on Monday, a simulation was conducted at the Philippine National Railways, Tugade said as he presented his agency's proposed 2021 budget to lawmakers. 

The move is "not a product of a knee-jerk reaction, but also a product of research and a product of simulation," Tugade said. 

"We can show that the matter of health and safety is not prejudiced provided you do strict enforcement and recognition of face mask, face shield, washing of hands, no more unnecessary talking, no eating, no use of cellphones, no asymptomatic, no senior citizens," he added. 

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,” Tugade earlier said. 

During Tuesday's budget proceedings at the House of Representatives, former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said: "People need to eat, work, and live. We cannot just stagnate dahil may (because there is) COVID." 

"Hindi naman pwedeng naka-lockdown tayo at hindi tayo gagalaw at hihintayin natin 'yung bakuna," she said. 

(We can't stay on lockdown, refuse to move and just wait for the vaccine.)

EXPERTS RAISE CONCERNS 

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

The World Health Organization urges the public to keep a distance of 1 meter from others to dodge the virus. The European Union recommends a distance of 1.5 meters and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 2 meters, Dr. Tony Leachon, a former adviser to the government task force on COVID-19 response, said. 

When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. 

“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,” Leachon told ANC. 

Allowing passengers from different areas to cluster within less than a meter increases the risk of virus transmission despite wearing protective gear, said Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of adult infectious diseases department in San Lazaro Hospital.

"When you have crowding of people na galing sa iba’t ibang lugar (from different places) then you have possible clustering of different exposed individuals that can somehow be in that part/area that increases risk of transmission," Solante told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo in a separate interview.

Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a clinical associate professor at the Philippine General Hospital, said distancing rules should have been eased gradually so its effects could be studied. 

-- With a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News