DOH asks public to be 'extra vigilant' as gov't eases physical distancing rules in public transport
Commuters ride a bus on September 12, 2020.
The STAR/Boy Santos
DOH asks public to be 'extra vigilant' as gov't eases physical distancing rules in public transport
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - September 14, 2020 - 11:05am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health called on the public to be “extra vigilant” as the government eased physical distancing rules in public vehicles, a move feared to result in surge in coronavirus cases.

Physical distancing in public vehicles was reduced to 0.75 meters from one meter beginning Monday in a bid to increase the passenger load of all modes of public transportation.

“Given the recent decision of the DOTr to ‘optimize physical distancing in transportation’ and in the interest of public health, we enjoin all Filipinos to be extra vigilant in situations where distancing cannot be practiced, and if possible, choose to participate in activities or use transport options that can afford at least one meter distancing,” the DOH said in a statement late Sunday.

The DOH urged Filipinos to continue wearing of face masks and face shields, practice hand washing and maintain physical distancing.

“Based on evidence, the level of protection increases when the practices are combined,” it said.

The department also asked senior citizens, immunocompromised people and those who do not feel well to stay at home.

Surge in COVID-19 cases

The government’s inter-agency task force approved the proposal to adjust physical distancing between commuters to an initial 0.75 meter, then to 0.5 meter, and later to 0.3 meter. 

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, IATF vice chair, said the Department of Transportation made the proposal to ease physical distancing in public transportation following “clamor from the economic sector.”

Dr. Tony Leachon, former COVID-19 Task Force adviser,  said the measure is “risky, confusing and counterintuitive” and is not based on science.

Under the guidelines of the World Health Organization, a minimum of one meter distance should be observed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The cornerstone or pillar in terms of preventing viral spread is actually physical distancing. The additional face mask or face shield will not compensate for the reduction of the physical distancing because of lower number registered by face mask and face shield in the absence of physical distancing,” Leachon, a public health advocate said in an interview on ANC. 

He stressed that if there is a COVID-19 positive person in the transport, anyone less than one meter from the individual after 15 minutes becomes close contact, which can lead to increase in COVID-19 cases and pose a challenge to contact tracing efforts.

“Since physical distancing is the number one deterrent for viral spread, reducing the distance of physical distancing may actually jeopardize our efforts in trying to flatten the curve,” Leachon said.

Dr. Edsel Salvana, an infectious disease specialist, suggested that the government should do pilot implementation of the new measure.

“I do not think a broad rollout with ever decreasing distances in a matter of weeks is prudent. We need to wait at least two to four weeks from initial pilot implementation to properly see any spikes in cases since we know it takes time for people to develop disease,” Salvana, a member of the technical advisory group that advises that DOH and the IATF said in a Facebook post Monday.

In a press briefing Monday, the DOH reiterated its statement on physical distancing in public vehicles and said there will be another meeting to discuss the matter.

“Meron pang pag-uusap na mangyayari and titignan natin ang magiging outcome (There will be a discussion and we will look at the possible outcome),” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

The country reported 261,216 COVID-19 cases, with 4,371 deaths and 207,568 recoveries.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 26, 2020 - 4:15pm

Other regions and provinces in the Philippines considered moderate and low-risk areas will be placed under general community quarantine starting May 1. Bookmark this page for updates. (Main image by The STAR/Edd Gumban)

October 26, 2020 - 4:15pm

The Department of Health reports 1,607 new COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the overall number of infections in the country to more than 371,000.

To date, 371,630 people in the Philippines have had COVID-19. Active cases rose to 36,333, comprising 9.8% of the total cases in the country. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

October 25, 2020 - 4:09pm

The Department of Health on Sunday reports 2,223 additional cases of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, bringing the national caseload to 370,028.

The DOH also confirms 14,944 new recoveries and 43 newly-reported deaths, pushing the total of reported recoveries to 328,036 and the death toll to 6,977.

With these figures, the total of active cases (net of deaths and recoveries) in the country is now at 35,015.

October 22, 2020 - 6:44pm

About 60% of adult Filipinos deem the efforts of public transportation owners' actions in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among their employees adequate.

The national mobile survey conducted from September 17 to 20 also found that 27% of the respondents consider them inadequate while 13% are undecided.

The poll was conducted using mobile phone and computer-assisted telephone interviewing among 1,249 adult Filipinos nationwide. Error margin is at ±3% for national percentages, ±6% for Metro Manila, ±5% for Balance Luzon, ±6% for the Visayas, and ±6% for Mindanao.

October 22, 2020 - 4:07pm

The Department of Health reports 1,644 additional coronavirus cases in the country, pushing the national caseload to 363,888.

The DOH also records 632 new recoveries, bringing the total of recovered cases to 312,222. The Philippines' death toll now stands at 6,783 with 38 new deaths.

Total active cases (net of COVID-19 deaths and recoveries) in the country is now at 44,772.

October 21, 2020 - 4:06pm

The Department of Health reports 1,509 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, raising the national tally to 362,243.

The DOH also records 911 additional recoveries, pushing the total of recovered patients to 311,506. The national death toll now stands at 6,747 with 60 new deaths reported.

With these figures, the total of active cases (net of deaths and recoveries) in the country is now at 43,990.

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