Allow more PUVs, gov’t urged

Reduced physical distancing in public transportation backed, rejected

Forty civil society groups, led by nongovernment organization Action for Economic Reforms (AER), appealed to the government to allow more public utility vehicles (PUVs) to resume operations, instead of reducing physical distancing in public transportation in a bid to accommodate more commuters.

This photo taken on September 8, 2020 shows passengers sitting apart as part of health protocols imposed by authorities on public transport against COVID-19 coronaivurs, as they ride on a bus in Manila.(Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

“We appeal to President Duterte to stick to this policy of one-meter physical distancing in public transport. We believe that the harm that reducing physical distancing poses to commuters undermines its goal of facilitating economic recovery,” the groups said in a unity statement.

Instead of enforcing the reduced distancing rule, the groups called on the DOTr, as well as the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, to adopt these following action plans:

  1. Increase the supply of PUVs to accommodate more commuters and prevent overcrowding.
  2. Allow the functioning of informal modes of public transport such as service contracting.
  3. Enable safe bicycling by providing active transport infrastructure such as protected bike lanes.
  4. Allow staggered work hours and adopting work from home arrangements.

The civil society groups also welcomed the suspension of the implementation of the reduced physical distancing in public transportation from one meter to 0.75 meters.

They tagged this proposal, which was being pushed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to optimize public transport, as a “dangerous policy,” especially in this time of pandemic, as it will lead to a rapid rise of infections.

Dr. Tony Leachon, a former special adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19, said reducing physical distancing in public transportation to less than a meter will cause “disaster.”

Leachon, in an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday, said the one-meter distancing global standard should not be reduced.

“Malaki ang difference ng 0.75 sa one meter ayon sa pag-aaral (There’s a big difference between 0.75 and one meter based on studies). The greater the distance, the greater the reduction,” Leachon said.

“If we relax physical distancing in public transport, this may escalate and this could actually derail the flattening of the curve,” he added.

Citing meta-analysis or conglomeration data issued by The Lancet on June 1, Leachon said physical distancing of one meter reduces the chances of infection by 86 percent, two meters by 93 percent, and three meters by 96 percent.

Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, in an interview with DZMM, said a slight adjustment in the distance will make no difference as long as other health measures are observed.

“Walang pinagkaiba sa 0.75 meters kasi lumingon ka lang, iusog mo lang ng konti yung pwet mo doon sa jeep, eh abot mo na yung 0.75 meters na yan (A 0.75-meter adjustment will make no difference because that is just like to turning your head in a different direction or slightly moving your position in jeepneys),” Cabral said.

Cabral echoed the statement of her predecessor, Dr. Manuel Dayrit, that “it’s possible to go below one meter” in terms of distancing.

What’s important, according to Cabral, is to keep wearing face masks and face shields “consistently and correctly.”

“Pag ginawa natin lahat ito, maski i-reduce natin mula sa one meter to 0.75 ‘yung layo ng ating pag dikitdikit ay pwede na rin makatulong ito sa pagbukas ng ating ekonomiya (As long as we do all of these things, even if we reduce the distance from one meter to 0.75, this will help in reopening the economy),” Cabral said.

Cabral said hand-washing will also help. Dr. Leo Olarte, Clean Air Philippines Movement, Inc. president, said during an interview with CNN Philippines that passengers within the closed spaces of public transportation will still get infected with COVID-19 regardless of the distance from each other.

“Ang pinaka-importante po talaga dito is yung paggamit ng wastong face mask (What is most important is the proper use of face mask),” Olarte said.

Aside from the proper use of masks and face shields, Olarte said passengers should also observe no talking, no eating, and no drinking while inside public transportation.

Clean Air Philippines has conveyed to the IATF its support for either the one meter or .75 meter physical distancing between passengers.

The doctor said their endorsement is based on the research conducted by the Duke University School of Medicine on COVID-19 transmissions.

“Kasi kung closed space po yan, the air just rotates around the closed space (Because of the closed space, the air just rotates around the closed space,” Olarte said.

“Even one meter or two meters or even three meters, still there is infection as long as it is within a closed space,” he added.

He said that in Japan, passengers ride the train side by side but they don’t talk and properly use face masks.

The same observation is seen in other countries like Singapore, Taiwan, China, and South Korea. Olarte said a balance should be struck between health and the economy