Cabinet approves one-seat distancing in public transport, ​raises train capacity

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 13) — More commuters may board jeepneys, buses, and other modes of public transportation after the Cabinet approved reduced physical distancing rules.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced Tuesday that the Executive is allowing increased public transport capacity by letting riders take one seat apart.

​He clarified that the new rules will only take effect once published in the Official Gazette and will no longer need a separate approval from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The Cabinet also allowed the increase in train ridership to 50 percent from the current 30 percent capacity.

Roque added that more provincial buses, shuttles, ride-hailing services, and motorcycle taxis will be allowed to operate to accommodate more passengers, ​as the government fast-tracks service contracting for more jeepney and bus routes.

Passengers may eventually be allowed to sit beside each other provided that there are plastic barriers separating them. If barriers are not available, the use of UV light for disinfection is also allowed.

This is a departure from the one-meter distancing required since public transport was gradually reopened in June. The guidelines also call for:

1. Wearing of proper face masks

2. Wearing of face shields

3. No talking and no eating

4. Adequate ventilation

5. Frequent and proper disinfection

6. No symptomatic passengers

7. Appropriate physical distancing

READ: Reduced physical distancing OK as long as other health measures in place — health experts

He said the recommendations came from President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team, whose members have long said that limited public transport has been holding back economic recovery after months of community quarantine rules due to the COVID-19 crisis.

​The decision was unanimous, Roque said, as Cabinet officials knew how crucial the easing of restrictions would be in further reopening the economy.

"It is based on science, it is based on studies... The lockdowns have been causing poverty and malnutrition on the part of our children," Roque said when asked what changed the minds of some officials who were previously against the plan to trim the one-meter distancing to as short as 0.3 meter.

"After months of quarantine, alam na natin ang gagawin: mask, iwas, hugas [we already know what to do: wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands]," he added, noting that the "Seven Commandments" should be enough to reduce the risk of infections.

RELATED: Consumer confidence plunges to all-time low, to stay bleak for the rest of 2020 – BSP

Former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, who earlier backed the reduced physical distancing, also noted that Metro Manila has seen a downtrend in new cases over the last two months, which he said signals the time is ripe for further reopening of the economy.

If the positive development in the capital region's COVID-19 situation continues, Dayrit said a shift to a more relaxed modified general community quarantine is possible before the year ends.

"If the trend continues and we have negative growth of infections, I think optimistically, we can say that yes, by December, we hope to open the economy by 75 percent or more," he told CNN Philippines.

There are 342,826 confirmed cases in the country as of Monday where 43,332 are considered active. More than 290,000 people have recovered while more than 6,300 died from COVID-19.