We cannot deny the buoyant feeling we have this weekend after the government suspended the proposed reduced physical distancing in public transportation, suggested earlier on by the Department of Transportation.
Initially, the government, through the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, approved the plan to increase the number of riders in mass transport vehicles by reducing the physical distance between commuters, although health officials were still reporting daily thousands of new COVID-19 infections and deaths — the recoveries notwithstanding.
That policy was doubtless the handiwork of Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade who had emphasized the need to “safely optimize the carrying capacity” of public transport vehicles, given that more employees were expected to return to their jobs as more industries resume operations.
Tugade said his department was “receptive to an initial optimization of the physical distancing measure in public transport vehicles to 0.75 meters among commuters beginning Sept. 14. That was to be “further optimized to 0.5 meters after two weeks and to 0.3 meters after another two weeks.
Tugade argued that current health measures, such as the mandatory use of face masks and face shields meant that the one-meter physical distancing measure could be relaxed.
At the same time, the chief implementer of the government’s plan against COVID-19, Secretary Carlito Galvez, said “optimizing” physical distance among passengers would help ease transportation woes among commuters.
“With public transportation, there is faster recovery of lives and livelihoods as we push forward under the new normal,” Galvez said.
There is no argument the domestic economy has been reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and that sentiment is understandable. But that is fraught with problems since infections and deaths caused by the coronavirus have continued to rise.
We are glad the government eventually saw the light, from the arguments of health authorities, that there was a need to suspend implementing the new protocol as the IATF-EID has yet to submit its recommendations to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Presidendtial Spokesman Harry Roque has said the recent recommendation of the IATF-EID to Duterte was based on doctors’ advice. Some medical experts have posited it is possible to go below the one meter distance rule since the distance is not dogma.
But they invite authorities to look at the packages in what they call the “seven commandments” which are:
- 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 asymptomatic passengers.
7. Appropriate physical distancing.
The arguments of the proponents for a reduced physical distancing in public transportation nonetheless, we join hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who have rejoiced that the government has suspended the proposed reduced physical distancing.
Let’s admit for once that physical distancing has been a major component of government efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 round the world, along with good hygiene and hand washing and the use of face masks.
Health experts, including those from the World Health Organization, believe this combination, and not just one component — face masks — can stop the spread of a highly contagious disease.
A former adviser to the IATF has succinctly described the public transportation plan as “reckless.”
Dr. Anthony Leachon said the one-meter physical distance between individuals was the bedrock of preventing virus transmission, and that wearing a face mask or face shield was just a complement to this basic preventive measure.
“This [policy] will be risky, reckless, counter-intuitive and will derail the flattening of the curve in the National Capital Region, which will … affect the entire Philippines. We have flattened the curve, but that is not completely irreversible. We will cause [a] resurgence of cases if we are reckless,” he warned.