The government’s decision to reduce physical distancing in public transportation is amid the coronavirus pandemic is “problematic,” an infectious disease doctor from the Philippine General Hospital said.
The use of face masks and face shields will mitigate virus transmission, but “close contact definition remains,” said Dr. Edsel Salvaña.
“The proposal to decrease the distance in public transport to less than one meter is problematic. If there is a single COVID-19-positive person in the transport, anyone less than one meter from him/her after 15 minutes becomes a close contact who will need to quarantine and can potentially spread the disease,” he added.
The reduction of physical distancing, which begins today, September 14, aims to “optimize” and increase the carrying capacity of public transport vehicles, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said.
The task force against COVID-19 defended its decision to ease the social distancing between passengers of public transportation, noting the health protocols in place were enough to prevent the spread of the virus.
The physical distancing would be lessened from one meter to 0.75 meters and could be reduced further starting September 28 and to 0.3 meters beginning October 12.
Many expressed their concerns with the measure as the country continues to log a higher number of COVID-19 cases daily.
Reduced physical distancing ‘problematic’ – expert
However, Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) vice-chairman and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles assured the public that strict health protocols would be imposed in public transport vehicles.
Nograles added that other countries like Japan had adapted the reduction of physical distancing provided that passengers are required to face masks and face shields while traveling.
“We are balancing health and economy – our health needs and the economic aspect. We are slowly reopening our economy, allowing more economic activities, and people are returning to work… Our countrymen who need to work find it difficult to go to their workplace because of the gap in transportation,” he said.
For Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations or ACTO president Efren de Luna, the government should have allowed public transportation modes to operate first before imposing reduced social distancing. This way, more commuters would be accommodated while maintaining the one-meter physical distance requirement.