THE new policy reducing the physical distance between passengers in public transport units was again tabled for discussion during the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases meeting Tuesday, September 15, 2020.
This, after the medical sector and some members of the IATF warned that the new policy, which is aimed at increasing ridership to improve mobility and boost the economy, could spark transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
During the meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night, September 14, Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III echoed the opposition of the health workers.
He cited a study conducted by the Health Professionals Alliance Against Covid-19, which showed that reducing the required physical distance could lead to an increase of Covid-19-related deaths in the country.
“Kung babawasan ang isang metro to 0.75 meter at a 50 percent ridership dito sa NCR, ang death rate natin, new cases every day, will reach 686 per day. So if you multiply that by 30 days, you will have about 20,580 cases - ‘yan po ang bagong kaso,” Duque said.
“If you multiply that by 1.6, which is our case fatality rate, ang lalabas po dito will be 3,951 deaths per year,” he added.
Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año supported Duque’s perspective, adding that the measure is “dangerous” and it may bring the country’s fight against Covid-19 back to zero.
In a television interview on Tuesday, Año said health experts were not consulted when the measure was proposed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
He also said the measure was never approved by the IATF. What was approved was the recommendation of acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua that a study be conducted on the proposal to alter the health standards.
He said he is hoping that the DOTr will revoke its order.
The DOTr announced that effective September 14, the required physical distance between passengers in all public transport units will be reduced to 0.75 (or 3/4) meter from the current one meter recommended by the World Health Organization.
This is supposed to be reduced to 0.5 (or 1/2) meter after two weeks and further to 0.3 (or 1/3) meter after another two weeks.
The DOTr, however, said all commuters must strictly wear face masks and face shields. Talking and using a cellphone are prohibited.
Año cited scientific studies that require a distance of at least one meter to minimize transmission of Covid-19.
“We have to be consistent. Nagpapatupuad ka sa bahay, opisina, sa public tapos biglang pagdating sa sasakyan iva-violate mo. Merong consequence yan,” he added.
National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defended the DOTr policy, saying the use of face masks and face shield is enough to prevent transmission of the virus among the commuters.
Galvez also noted that risk mitigation measures are in place, such as proper ventilation, and prohibition against talking or using cellphones or eating.
“‘Yong ibang countries nakita ko sa Japan, dikit-dikit, pero ang rule nila is no talking and talagang no using of cellphones and no eating,” he said in the same meeting with Duterte.
"Kasi ang transport po talaga is a vehicle for recovery. Kasi kung wala po talaga yung tinatawag na transportation, we cannot recover po," he added.
He said transmission of the virus is more likely in the household, community and workplace.
“Ang pinaka-vulnerable po bahay at saka sa community kasi tinatanggal po natin ang mask. When we are eating, when we are talking with our friends, when we are talking with our co-workers,” he said.
“Ang pinaka-vulnerable po talaga na nakikita namin is ‘yung workplace, sa mga canteen, mga kantina po, at saka sa smoking places,” he added.
Meanwhile, physician Carmela Kasala of Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against Covid-19 (HPAAC) said in a television interview that the new DOTr policy is untimely and could cause a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.
She said the protection that face masks and face shield provide is not absolute and these should be implemented hand and hand with the strict observance of physical distancing.
“Hindi talaga sang-ayon ang pangkat ng HPAAC dIyan sa pinaplanong 'yan. Malamang, tataas na naman ang cases ng Covid. Baka iniisip ng mga tao na pawala na ang virus na 'to at pababa na 'yung mga numbers,” she said.
“Yung droplet, kahit yung aerosol sa pagsasalita, sa pag-ubo, sa paghatsing , lahat ‘yan may mga droplet na kumakalat sa hangin. So kung nasa labas yan, kung nasa air around us, merong distansya ‘yan na puwedeng mag-travel ng two meters or six feet,” she added. (SunStar Philippines)