COVID-19 task force to review reduced distancing in PUVs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) — Reduced physical distancing is now in place in public transportation, but a number of officials on Monday said the Inter-Agency Task Force will review the policy in light of backlash from the public and health experts.

The first phase that began Monday reduced the space between commuters to 0.75 meter. IATF spokesperson Harry Roque said there will be a meeting on Tuesday to discuss rules implemented by the Department of Transportation in all public utility vehicles to accommodate more commuters.

Metro Manila Council Chairman and Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez said the 17 local chief executives of National Capital Region said they were not consulted before the implementation.

From the one-meter distance recommended by the World Health Organization, the DOTr reduced the distance between commuters to 0.75 meter. This will be further reduced to 0.5 meter by September 28, then to 0.3 by October 12.

The reduction to half of the recommendation of global health experts worries Metro Manila mayors. Olivarez said the IATF vowed to review the plan, with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III presenting clear data on its effects and possible repercussions.

"Ang mabigat po rito, after 2 weeks it will be 0.5 and two weeks after it will be 0.3. So magkakaroon po ng revisit ang IATF regarding po dito sa 0.5 kasi 'yun ang mahirap talaga," he said.

[Translation: It will be hard because after two weeks it will be reduced to 0.5 then down to 0.3 after another two weeks. The IATF will revisit the decision before it is reduced to 0.5.]

Meanwhile, the Department of Health encouraged the public to opt for PUVs that can afford at least one-meter distancing, advising everyone to be "extra vigilant in situations where distancing cannot be practiced."

DOTr's decision has been questioned by health experts.

A group of physicians warned that reducing physical distancing in public transportation may cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Dr. Mario Panaligan, president of the Philippine College of Physicians, told CNN Philippines that the medical sector is “worried and concerned” about the new policy, saying this can increase the chances of virus transmission. He said added that he risk is higher because of poor ventilation in some public vehicles.

Dr. Edsel Salvaña, an expert on infectious diseases, also stressed the government's move to ease distancing in public transport is problematic.

"If there is a single COVID-19 positive person in the transport, anyone less than one meter from him/her after 15 minutes becomes a close contact who will need to quarantine and can potentially spread disease," he said on his Facebook page on Sunday.