MANILA — The Department of Health on Wednesday explained that the government’s one-seat-apart rule in public transportation is not a reduction of existing physical distancing protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pag tinignan natin, parang hindi naman natin in-ease yung measure, itong paggagawa ng one seat apart,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.
(If we look at it, the measure wasn’t eased by doing this one-seat-apart.)
“So, kailangan lang po magkaroon ng message na mas maayos at mas maliwanag para sa ating mga kababayan, kaya ginamit ang one seat apart.”
(We just needed a message that was clear for our citizens. That’s why we used one seat apart.)
On Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the Cabinet had approved the one-seat-apart rule for public vehicles during their Monday meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
Roque did not say how far one seat should be. Vergeire also did not specify a measurement.
The government received flak last month when it announced that it was easing physical distancing inside vehicles from 1 meter to 0.75 meter and to eventually 0.3 meter.
Doctors opposed the decision, which resulted in the new guidelines being suspended at that time.
While it is unclear if the one-seat-apart rule is still within the World Health Organization’s guidelines of at least one-meter distancing, Vergeire assured the public that the government will not implement something that will be detrimental to public health.
“Hindi po natin tinanggal na dapat merong distance between and among passengers in a specific transport vehicle. Ang ating ipapaliwanag at gustong iparating sa lahat ng ating mga kababayan, kailangan lang talaga mag-minimum health standards tayo,” she said.
(We did not remove the distance between passengers in transport vehicles. We just want to explain to people that there should be minimum health standards.)
Vergeire reminded the public to wear face masks and face shields inside public transportation. She also said that eating and talking are prohibited.
“And of course, we remind the owners or the Department of Transportation to strictly enforce itong ventilation systems na pinalabas po natin para mas makaiwas pa tayo sa impeksyon (rules that we implemented to avoid infection),” she said.
On Monday, the DOH said it issued a memo specifying measures that should be in place to ensure good ventilation in closed spaces, including vehicles. This is to avoid the possibility of airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
The Department of Transportation said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is tasked to issue a clarificatory memorandum circular regarding the "one-seat apart" rule.
It will also include measures to increase capacity of public transport vehicles while ensuring safety of passengers, such as the use of plastic barriers to separate passengers, or UV lights, inside.