President Duterte has revoked the 0.75 meter physical distancing in public transport that was earlier recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
“Matapos pong pag-aralan ni Presidente ang desisyon ng parehong panig… Nag-desisyon na po ang Presidente kahapon. Ang desisyon po ng Presidente, mananatili po ang one-meter social distancing sa pampublikong transportation (After studying both sides, the President decided that the one-meter social distancing rule in public transportation will stay),” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said over PTV-4 Saturday morning.
“Sasamahan din ng pagsusuot ng mask, face shield, bawal po ang salita at bawal po ang pagkain, at pagsa-sanitize po sa mga pampublikong transportasyon (This will come with the wearing of face masks and face shields. Talking and eating will likewise be prohibited. The modes of public transportation shall also be sanitized),” he added.
The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) welcomed the government’s decision, saying it “averted additional COVID-19 transmissions” that reduced physical distancing may have caused.
“The study made by HPAAC estimates that given the current context, reducing physical distancing in the transport sector to 0.75 meter will aggravate this by adding 700 new daily infections despite simultaneous implementation of other strategies such as face shields and masks,” the group said in a statement dated September 18.
It added that out of the assumption of 700 newly infected individuals, 140 will be hospitalized and 7 will die.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Saturday said that it will “aggressively comply” with the one-meter physical distancing in public transport, adding that it will release guidelines on its implementation.
“The President has spoken. We shall aggressively comply and strictly enforce the one-meter physical distancing in all public transport as envisioned and mandated,” the DOTr said in a statement.
The Department of Health (DOH) also expressed its support to President Duterte’s decision, saying that the minimum health standards being adopted are all based on scientific evidence.
“There’s a study where they said that when you wear a mask, you can have about 67 percent protection from being infected,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, noting that this is based on both international and local studies.
“When you wear a face shield [over the face mask], the percentage of you being protected increases, but when you add physical distancing to these two minimum health standards, your protection against this virus increases to at least 99 percent,” she added.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) announced early this month that it will start easing the required distancing measures in public transportation as the government reopens the economy. However, this was met with criticisms not just from the public but also from medical frontliners.
The argument prompted President Duterte to order the IATF to revisit its decision, asking them to submit a report to him.
Duterte himself admitted last week that he thinks it is a “fallacy” to believe that wearing a face shield in public transportation could provide full protection from the COVID-19 infection.
On Wednesday, Roque said that there was really no objection from IATF members when the move was first proposed. He said it only became an issue when medical groups made one out of it.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nogales said the move to ease the physical distancing measures was a calibrated move and a part of the government’s second phase of the National Action Plan to address COVID-19.
Malacañang also made attempts to convince the public to accept the 0.75-meter physical distancing rule, even inviting former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit to support the IATF’s decision during the regular Palace press briefing on Thursday. (With reports from Gabriela Baron, Alexandria Dennise San Juan, and Analou de Vera)