DOH stands by 1-meter distance between commuters

The Department of Health (DOH) stood by its recommended 1-meter distance between commuters after the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Monday, September 14, reduced physical distancing on public transport.

In an official statement, the DOH stressed that while the DOTr wanted to "optimize physical distancing in transportation," Filipinos must practice minimum health standards like wearing of face masks and face shields to prevent transmitting the coronavirus. 

"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," the agency said.

"If possible, choose to participate in activities or use transport options that can afford at least 1-meter distancing," the DOH said, even if the DOTr said its decision is safe and scientific.

Why this matters

The DOTr's decision to reduce physical distancing measures is the latest flashpoint in the government’s struggle to balance reopening the economy while ensuring health standards are in place to keep the coronavirus at bay. 

The transport department's policy likewise disregards recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and DOH. Evidence showed people are more protected against COVID-19 when they practice physical distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields, and handwashing all together. 

Like the DOH,  Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, vice chair of the Philippines' coronavirus task force, aired his own reservations against the DOTr’s policy – revealing yet again the discordant voices within the Duterte government in fighting the coronavirus. 

On Monday, health workers also voiced their opposition to the measure as they warned it was still too early in the Philippines’ pandemic to institute such measures. 

The medical workers' group Healthcare Professionals Alliance for COVID-19 (HPAAC) said "it is too early" to relax physical distancing measures on public transport. "Cases will surely rise and hamper our recovery if we do this now," said leading epidemiologist and HPAAC member Dr Antonio Dans.

The HPAAC is the Philippines' largest group of health workers, and includes medical groups that called on the government to review its pandemic response. The group earlier warned the country was "losing the battle" against COVID-19.

Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon told GMA News on Monday, however, that their new measure is based on scientific studies, such as one by the International Union of Railways.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade earlier said the DOTr will begin with "optimizing" distancing measures to 0.75 meters from the standard 1 meter to increase the passenger load of all modes of public transportation. 

Physical distancing will gradually be reduced further to 0.5 meters on September 28 and 0.3 meters on October 12. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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