Gov’t implements one-seat apart rule in public transpo

Published October 13, 2020, 4:04 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The government has agreed to implement a one-seat apart rule in public transportation, effectively scrapping the one-meter distance in line with further reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

In this photo taken on September 8, 2020, passengers wearing face shields ride a bus in Manila. (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Other recommendations of the economic team to gradually expand operational capacity of businesses, allow more people to leave their homes, and shorten curfew hours in “priority areas” have also been approved during President Duterte’s meeting with the Cabinet Monday.

“Tumutok ang meeting kung paano mabuhay muli ang eonomiya dahil sa COVID-19 at kahapon po inaprubahan ng Gabinet ang lahat ng rekomendasyon ng economic cluster (The meeting focused on how to revive the economy and the Cabinet approved all the recommendations made by the economic cluster),” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said during a Palace press briefing Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Among the Cabinet economic cluster’s recommendations is to open a sufficient number of safe public transportation following guidance from experts on minimum health standards, according to Roque.

“Inapubrahan ng Gabinete na sa pambuklikong transportasyon one-seat apart na po ang distansya (The Cabinet approved a distance of one-seat apart in public transportation),” he said.

For public transportation, Roque explained that it would begin with one-seat apart and gradually increase capacity or allow seating together with plastic barrier or use of UV light.

The government previously implemented a one-meter distance between passengers in public vehicles to avoid the coronavirus infection. It originally wanted to impose a 0.75 meter distancing rule to allow more people to reach their workplaces but drew criticisms from health advocates due to potential transmission of the illness.

Also approved by the Cabinet is the proposed expansion of the rail capacity to 30 to 50 percent, expansion of provincial buses, motorcycle taxi, shuttle and TVNS, and accelerated use of service contracting to expand bus and jeep.

Roque said the seven commandments or health measures must be strictly enforced when using public transportation. These are wearing of face masks , wearing of face shields, no talking and no eating, adequate ventilation, frequent and proper disinfection, no symptomatic passengers, and appropriate physical distancing.

Apart from the issue of public transportation, Roque said the Cabinet approved the recommendation to pursue PDITR or prevent, detect, isolate, treat, recover through technology and discipline as well as improve the hospital care capacity to keep critical care use below 70 percent in priority areas.

These priority places will be determined based on the daily attack rate, critical care utilization, among others, to manage the coronavirus cases, according to Roque.

The Cabinet also backed the economic cluster’s suggestion to consider more incremental opening of businesses in priority areas. 

To stimulate business activity, he said the economic team proposed shorter curfew hours and multiple work shifts to allow more workers and buyers to contribute to economy; further gradual expansion of business capacity to 75 to 100 percent; and gradual expansion of the age group allowed to go out such as between 15 years old to 65 years old.

The economic team also recommended to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases to consider escalation of quarantine level only as a last resort. The proposal was approved by the Cabinet.

“If COVID-19 cases are rising, still maintain current quarantine level and implement stricter protocols and more localized quarantine,” he said.

The public information and education campaign on how to prevent the spread of COVID must also be intensified by the IATF, Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

Roque allayed concerns that the easing of movement restrictions may lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. He said after living with the pandemic for more than six months, people must continue to observe health measures to avoid getting infected.

Roque said the latest decision of the Cabinet will take effect once it is published on the Official Gazette.