The department has started to implement the relaxed physical distancing in all modes of public transport on Monday — reducing to 0.75 meters the current health standard requirement of at least one-meter distance as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). This will be further adjusted every after two weeks to 0.5 meters starting Sept. 28, then to 0.3 meters on Oct. 12.
The Inter-Agency task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which heads the government’s COVID-19 response, has agreed to a recommendation by the Economic Development Council (EDC) to practice “optimization of social distancing” on all modes of public transportation, DOTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr said in a virtual media briefing on Saturday, September 12.
Talking and phone calls will be prohibited inside trains. Standing passengers will be required to face the same direction. These are to minimize the chances of inhaling particles exhaled by fellow passengers. There will be at least one marshal on each train “as much as possible,” DOTr said. Jeepney capacity will also increase from 10% to 12% and this is to allow them to take 1 to 3 more passengers.
This new policy have acquired criticism. Two experts from the University of the Philippines’ (UP) OCTA Research Team explained the importance of social distancing. Professor Ranjit Rye said the plan to relax physical distancing in public transportation could possibly increase COVID-19 transmission and negatively affect the country’s campaign against CoViD – 19.
“Yung social distancing yung tool natin laban sa COVID-19, hindi tayo pwedeng mag-MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine), ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) every time. Ang primary tool natin para labanan ang COVID-19 ay social distancing (Social distancing is our primary tool against COVID-19. We cannot just revert to MECQ, ECQ every time),” Professor Rye explained on his interview from DZBB today. His fellow researcher Dr. Guido David also said that guidelines should be based on science before implementing them. He also fears that the new guideline may cause confusion among commuters.
“Yung iba baka alam nila 1 meter, tapos nagbabago na tayo. May psychological effect yan kasi kahit sabihin naman ng goverment, some people hindi naman pare-pareho yung response ng mga tao. It may cause some fear to [some] group of people (Reducing physical distance might confuse some people who have been used to the 1-meter distancing. It has a psychological effect. People respond differently and it may cause fear to some),” David Said.
Instead of reducing physical distance, Rye said government must open additional modes of transportation. In addition, Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO) president Efren de Luna slammed the new order of the DOTr, adding that the government should just allow the resumption of all modes of public transport instead of reducing physical distancing guidelines. if their concerns are the commuters and drivers.
DOTr defends the policy they implemented. The Department of Transportation on Monday claimed that the reduced physical distancing in public transport is backed by studies of experts in the railway sector and medical field here and abroad.
“Maraming mga studies na ginawa hindi lang dito sa atin pati na rin sa ibang bansa na kapag itong reduction ng social distancing ay sinamahan ng mandatory use of face mask, face shield, and no talking, no phone and no eating policy, kasama na yung regular disinfection of units, as well as temperature checking, magiging malaking tulong ito para mabawasan ang transmission ng virus sa public transport,” Tuazon said.
In addition, Tuazon said that the request to ease physical distancing measures in public transport came from the riding public as many workers continued to go back to their workplaces under a more relaxed general community quarantine.
“Nagmula po ang request ngreduced physical distancing in public transport sa mga mamamayan dahil nagbubukas na ang ating ekonomiya at kailangang makapasok na sa trabaho ang mga tao,” Tuazon said.
With the new distancing policy in place, Tuazon reminded the riding public to strictly observe health and safety protocols being implemented by the DOTr, as well as the Department of Health while inside PUVs to further curb the transmission of the virus. “In the span of two weeks we will be studying it,” said Tuazon during an interview on CNN Philippines amid criticisms over the directive of the IATF for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to reduce physical distancing in public transportation.
“If there are any problems we encountered during the two-week period we will revert back to one meter,” he said.
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) has been recommending a physical distance of one meter, Tuazon said this recommendation was made way back in the 1980s when no pandemic occurred and did not consider other measures like the wearing face masks, face shields, and disinfection.