Reduced distancing in public vehicles may lead to 686 new COVID-19 cases daily – DOH

The reduced physical distancing in public transportation could lead to 686 additional coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases daily.


DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III stressed this during a meeting with President Duterte on Monday night, citing a study from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC).

“Sinasabi nila kung babawasan from one meter to 0.75, and at a 50 percent ridership, in other words, ang pasasakayin singkuwenta porsyento ng population ‘no dito sa NCR – new cases everyday will reach 686 per day ,” said Duque.

“So if you multiply that by 30 days, you will have about 20,580 cases, ito po per day po ‘yan ,” he added. The Health chief said that he will present the study of the AIM and HPAAC during the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases ((IATF) that focuses on the COVID-19 response.

The relaxation of physical distancing measures in public transportation is not advisable at the moment amid the high number of COVID-19 cases being reported daily, a member of the HPAAC said on Tuesday.

“Currently, because we still have a high number of cases being reported that the new recommendations for physical distancing might not be well-advise and perhaps we should wait until we have less cases so that any impact we observed, particularly if it leads to an increase in the number of cases, will not lead to increased healthcare utilization – because it is currently quite stretched already,” said Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, a HPAAC member, during an interview over ANC.

Ong-Lim said that there is a “need to provide better, safer, more public transportation because otherwise it would be very difficult to open up the economy.”

“I think the thing that we just need to focus on is the practicality of the suggestion. It is very difficult for people to estimate what 0.75 or 0.5 or 0.3 means. Secondly, may be consider other options such as providing more vehicles or maybe talk about staggering the work hours, or other interventions rather than contravening something that is already a standard locally,” she said.

“The physical distancing standards are actually a global recommendation. I actually have been looking at data to try to see that there is something new that came out, and unfortunately I haven't encountered anything that says less than one meter is acceptable at the moment,” she added.

The Akbayan Youth also opposed the decision of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to reduce physical distancing in public vehicles. It supports the medical groups and health workers on their call to review the new policy.

“When infections rise again, it's our workers, especially health workers, who bear the burden. I personally never heard of a country who openly advocated for violating the one-meter physical distancing rule,” Akbayan Youth chair Dr. RJ Naguit said in a statement.

“Looking at the rising reproductive number in the past few days, we cannot afford to normalize this thinking,” he stressed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends physical distancing of at least one meter between people in public places to prevent coronavirus infections. Action for Economic Reforms (AER), meanwhile said the public, particularly commuters, is calling for additional supply or availability of public transport under the General Community Quarantine and not for easing of distancing measure in public transportation.

The group reacted to a statement made by DOTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. in a "Laging Handa" virtual briefing on Monday that the reduced physical distancing policy was due to requests of the public as thousands of workers are now going back to their workplaces while the economy gradually reopens.

The AER expressed concern that the new policy might “endanger the lives of commuters and may lead to the resurgence in cases, thus undermining the goal of recovering the economy.”

“Given that we are still at a most critical stage in fighting COVID-19, we cannot be complacent by loosening physical distancing. We reiterate our previous point that this is a kind of signaling that things are now normal, and behavior on a bus or train will spill over to behavior in other places,” the AER said.

The group emphasized that while there is really a need to address the lack of available public transport in the capital region, it can be done by allowing more PUVs to operate and providing safe alternative transport options rather than loosening safety guidelines.

The AER urged the DOTr to focus on providing alternative transport options mandated in the recently passed Bayanihan 2 law that allocates ₱1.3 billion to active transport infrastructure and ₱5.6 billion to the service contracting of PUVs. (With reports from Raymund F. Antonio and Alexandria San Juan)