MANILA — The transport department said Friday it was already letting more public vehicles back on the road, even before medical experts asked them do so and refrain from cutting coronavirus distancing rules.
“Iyong proposal kasi to reduce physical distancing, it’s not just a sole proposal. Iyan po ang linawin natin. Iyan po ay ini-propose alongside with other interventions sa transport sector,” said Transport Assistant Secretary Goddess Hope Libiran.
(The proposal to reduce physical distancing, it’s not just a sole proposal. Let’s clarify that. We proposed that alongside with other interventions in the transport sector.)
“Iyong pagdadagdag po natin ng public transport, ginagawa na po iyan ng LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board) since June 1,” she told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
(The LTFRB has been increasing public transport units since June 1.)
For instance, the LTFRB as of Friday has opened 206 routes for some 17,500 public jeepneys in Metro Manila alone, up from zero authorized routes before the region eased its coronavirus lockdown in June, she said.
The LTFRB every week announces more additional routes, said the official.
The transport department is also pushing for a service contracting scheme that will give more stable incomes to public drivers, and has tasked corporations in economic zones to provide shuttle services to their workers, Libiran said.
The transport department on Monday shortened the required distancing in public vehicles to 0.75 meter to accommodate more passengers and open up the economy, which the coronavirus dragged into recession.
However, several doctors and researchers opposed the policy, saying this could lead to an uptick in coronavirus cases.
On Thursday, Malacañang announced that the required distancing would revert to 1 meter while President Rodrigo Duterte had yet to make a final decision on the issue.
The World Health Organization urges the public to keep a distance of 1 meter from others to dodge the virus. When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus, the WHO said.
The WHO threshold “can be adjusted based on context per country,” said Libiran.
“Sa ibang mga bansa po gaya ng Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, iyong mga tao doon sa public transport, dikit-dikit na,” she said.
(In other countries like Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, people inside the public transport are already packed.)
“Ang nire-require lang po doon ay iyong strictly wearing of face mask and no talking,” she said.
(The only requirement there are the strict wearing of face mask and no talking.)
The 5 countries that Libiran mentioned have a combined coronavirus caseload of 149,628, according to a dashboard by the Johns Hopkins University.
This is less than the 276,289 coronavirus infections of the Philippines.
Before cutting distancing requirements, authorities ran a simulation at the Philippine National Railways that showed the policy would not lead to an uptick in cases, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade earlier said.
The move is "not a product of a knee-jerk reaction, but also a product of research and a product of simulation," Tugade said Tuesday.
"We can show that the matter of health and safety is not prejudiced provided you do strict enforcement and recognition of face mask, face shield, washing of hands, no more unnecessary talking, no eating, no use of cellphones, no asymptomatic, no senior citizens," he added.