The government's easing of physical distancing in public transportation amid the COVID-19 pandemic is "problematic," an expert said Sunday.
The use of face masks and face shields will mitigate virus transmission, but "close contact definition remains," said Edsel Salvaña, an infectious disease doctor at the Philippine General Hospital.
"The proposal to decrease the distance in public transport to less than one meter is problematic. If there is a single COVID-19-positive person in the transport, anyone less than one meter from him/her after 15 minutes becomes a close contact who will need to quarantine and can potentially spread the disease.”
The Transport department earlier said it would push through on Monday the easing of physical distancing in public vehicles to 0.75 meter from 1 meter, following the approval of the Inter Agency Task Force on COVID-19.
Transport Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. said the agency moved to reduce physical distancing in transport to accommodate more passengers, especially in the modern jeepneys and buses.
But a leader of a transport alliance on Sunday advised the government to allow all public transportation modes to operate first to accommodate all commuters before resorting to shortening physical distancing standards inside vehicles.
Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations or ACTO president Efren de Luna said more commuters would be accommodated if all public transport vehicles were allowed to ply their routes.
Meanwhile, Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco on Sunday opposed the move to reduce physical distancing in public transport vehicles, saying it was inconsistent with the prevailing safety policies.
“Studies of health experts showed that social distancing, along with the proper wearing of face masks and handwashing, help prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease,” Tiangco said.
“Reducing distancing among commuters to increase ridership is inconsistent with the minimum safety standards that we have been teaching our people for six months now.”
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Sunday reiterated an earlier recommendation for the Transport department to allow more modes of public transportation to operate to help boost the economy.
“Of course, we need to comply with minimum health standards. That is why the best way to ensure that we can enforce social distancing in transport systems is to have enough space for workers who travel in the first place,” Salceda said.