Following a public outcry over the decision to reduce physical distance space in public transportation vehicles, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) is now reviewing the issue.
“There are some clamors from the health sector to restudy the matter,” said Año, who has earlier aired his own reservation against the recommendation of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to reduce to .75 meter the previous one meter distancing among commuters.
The implementation of the reduced space directive started yesterday, Monday.
Año said the health sector will present its arguments against the move in a meeting with members of the IATF today.
“That is subject to discussion further especially that the health sector will present their argument (Tuesday) to reconsider the physical distancing reduction,” Año said.
Año said the IATF approved the resolution easing physical distancing in public transportation on Thursday on the clamor of economic teams owing to the lack of vehicles to ferry workers and commuters.
Año said he was not present during the entire meeting of the task force as he attended a budget hearing in Congress. He said he joined the meeting late, when the task force had already approved the resolution.
“But I also manifested my reservation for further discussion,” said Año.
“Personally, I would like to abide by the one-meter standard, minimum standard of physical distancing. If we can actually provide more transport to our people rather than reducing the distance that will be better,” Año said.
Nevertheless, the resolution would have to be implemented as scheduled, pending the review, because that is a “collective decision.” He said marshals will be deployed to ensure there is strict compliance among commuters.
“We will review and constantly monitor and we will check what is really the effect of this reduction of the distance. (It is) subject to what you call changes if there are, let’s say adverse effect of this reduction of the distance,” said Año.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the DOTr recommendation was adopted last week following the lack of opposition to the idea. The space will be further reduced as the weeks pass by.
Roque said the move aims to accommodate more passengers in PUVs as more people return to work and more businesses resume operations especially in areas under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) and GCQ.
Experts described as dangerous and premature the government’s decision to gradually cut the social distancing minimum from the current one meter to .75 meter, .50 meter and finally to .30 meters on public transport.
“This will be risky, reckless and counter-intuitive and will delay the flattening of the curve,” Anthony Leachon, ex-president of the Philippine College of Physicians, told news channel ANC.
“Even if you wear a face shield and mask, reducing the distance between, it will be dangerous,” he said, adding that one or two meters was the minimum international standard.
Manila’s transport systems are notoriously crowded, with commutes typically involving long queues and several changes.
“It is likely that we will see an increase in cases and our recovery will slow if we do this now,” said epidemiologist Antonio Dans.
Dans is a member of a health professionals alliance that last month pleaded for a tightening of Manila’s lockdown – a “timeout” to stop hospitals being overrun.
“We are against the relaxing of social distancing measures in public utility vehicles because we believe it is too soon,” said Dans.
“Reopening the economy will never happen unless the viral transmission is controlled,” added Leachon, a former advisor to the government’s COVID-19 task force. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Gerard Naval and Reuters