Social distancing should be mandatory, says expert

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 13 2020 11:49 PM | Updated as of Mar 14 2020 12:26 AM

Social distancing should be mandatory, says expert 1
Commuters wear protective face masks inside a jeepney amid new cases of coronavirus in Manila, Wednesdsay. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA—Without social distancing, Metro Manila under mass quarantine will not be effective containing the novel coronavirus, a health expert says, after President Rodrigo Duterte announced strict travel restrictions to and from the region starting Sunday.

Health reform advocate Tony Leachon in a radio interview says the government decision to place Metro Manila under "community quarantine" without ordering people, especially the elderly, to observe social distancing will not help fighting the COVID-19 spread.

Social distancing was advised, not ordered, by the administration to avoid infection.

Leachon explains that Duterte's order to extend class suspensions in Metro Manila schools until April 12 as part of the community quarantine will not be a major factor in fighting the disease, since students can go to the mall and other establishments.

"Dahil bukas ang mall, pupunta ang bata sa mall. Wala kang social distancing dito," he tells radio DZMM.

He adds that class suspensions won't significantly reduce possibilities of infection since the elderly, especially people 60 years and older, are the ones vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"Ang apektado dito [sa sakit] mga matatanda, 'yung mga sinasabing vulnerable. Above 60, diabetic, may hypertension. So kung papasok 'yung mga 'yun, labas-pasok din 'yung virus at sila 'yung vulnerable," he Leachon says.

He says there are millions of Filipinos with diabetes, hypertension, and kidney ailments who are at risk of contracting the virus from work.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has said workers from nearby provinces can enter Metro Manila if they have ID proving they have official business in the city.

Leachon, however, says this could lead to more COVID-19 infections throughout the country, since workers who could get the virus in Metro Manila could transfer it to others in their respective provinces.

"Kung nagtatrabaho ka [galing] Bulacan, [galing] Cavite sa Maynila, sa nangyayari ngayon, ilalabas mo din 'yung mikrobyo," he says.

Social distancing under law is more effective than community quarantine to fight the disease, Leachon adds, since the virus relies on transmission from nearby infected patients.

"Kapag nag-mandatory social distancing ka, 60 percent ang mababawasan sa transmission," he says.

The Philippines earlier quarantined Metro Manila’s 12.8 million people and banned mass gatherings, without mandatory social distancing, to contain the fast-spreading COVID-19, which has infected at least 64 people in the country, 5 of whom died.

Travel -- whether by land, sea, or domestic air -- to and from Metro Manila will be prohibited starting Sunday, according to an inter-agency resolution, which declared the highest Code Red Sub-level 2 because of “sustained community transmission.”