It’s best to maintain the old distancing rule

Published September 22, 2020, 11:39 PM

by Manila Bulletin

President Duterte has decided it is best to maintain the one-meter rule on physical distancing in public transport. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had allowed a shorter distance of .75 meters to enable public transport to accommodate more passengers. But the President decided to maintain the one-meter rule in the interest of public health.

The rule on distancing can be traced back to research as early as the 1930s. Researchers found that droplets of liquid released in coughs or sneezes evaporate quickly or fall to the ground within one to two meters Research intensified after the spread of COVID-19 early this year and one study published in the United Kingdom concluded that at least one meter from other people could be the best way to limit the chances of infection. The risk was estimated at 13 percent within one meter, but only 3 percent beyond that distance.

Various countries today have different rules on distancing. It is said to be one meter in China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Lithuania, and Singapore; 1.4 meters in South Korea; 1.5 meters in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain; 1.8 meters in the United States; and 2 meters in Canada and the UK.

The advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) is this: “Maintain at least one meter (three feet) between yourself and others. Why? When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID -19 virus if the person has the disease.”

We adopted this one-meter rule from the WHO as part of our protocols against COVID-19, along with the use of face masks, non-touching of other people as well as frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, and frequent washing of hands.

After six months of various levels of lockdown, we have now started to ease the restrictions, with more people now reporting to work in reopened businesses and offices. The IATF thought of easing the social distancing rule in publlc transport, but there were objections which President Duterte has now heeded.

To ease the problem of inadequate transportation, it may be better for the IATF to allow more public transport, including Metro Manila’s jeepneys many of whose routes remain closed. To this day, many jeepney drivers may be seen begging for help from passing motorists In many street corners.

Last Wednesday, the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) fielded for the first time in its history 21 train sets, with a goal of 24 — to accommodate more travelers while observing the rule on physical distancing along with the use of face masks and face shields, no talking with another passenger and on any digital device.

The COVID-19 is still with us, as it is with many other nations around the world. Even as we slowly ease our restrictions in reopening our economy, it will be best to maintain the old reliable one-meter distancing rule.