Group of medical experts back reduced distancing policy in public transport

Robie de Guzman   •   September 15, 2020   •   331

MANILA, Philippines – A panel of doctors on Tuesday expressed support for the gradual reduction of physical distancing inside public transportation vehicles.

The medical experts, which include former Department of Health Secretaries Manuel Dayrit and Esperanza Cabral, said that while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends keeping a distance of one meter from other passengers to the extent possible, “it allows for adjustments based on context.”

“Given our other recommended health interventions, we propose the gradual reduction of the physical distancing norm during transit to 0.5 meters or lower,” the group said in a statement.

“Based on our review of the scientific literature and the policies and experiences of neighboring countries, we believe the evidence shows physical distancing can be maintained below 1 meter, so long as other health measures are also implemented,” they added.

The group also includes NTF against COVID-19 Special Advisor Dr. Teodoro Herbosa, University of the Philippines Manila officials Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr. and Dr. Michael Hernandez, Philippine College of Surgeons Cancer Commission director Dr. Manuel Roxas, Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines founder and CEO Dr. Ma. Dominga Padilla, and Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante.

The group submitted its recommendations to the IATF regarding the reduced physical distancing in public transport.

Aside from the gradual reduction of physical distancing, they also urged the government to increase public transportation supply including trains, bus, jeepneys, motorcycle taxis, and Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS), and the use of other options such as cycling, walking, and private shuttles.

“We also recommend the full institutionalization of private sector expert consultation to further improve our overall management of the economy and public health,” the group said.

They stressed that while the efforts of the task force, Department of Health and the One Hospital Command to address the pandemic have “successfully increased and improved the current hospital capacity,” there is still an urgent need to revitalize the country.

They also emphasized that the economy cannot bounce back without increasing public transport capacity, which has been operating at only 20-30% of pre-pandemic levels due to fears of COVID-19 transmission.

They also pushed for the strict implementation of what they call as the “seven commandments” for all public transportation:

  • Wearing of proper face masks
  • Wearing of face shields
  • No talking and no eating
  • Adequate ventilation
  • Frequent and proper disinfection
  • No symptomatic passengers
  • Appropriate physical distancing

“By imposing these strict measures, we believe we can gradually relax social distancing rules, in order to double or even triple our current public transport capacity, without compromising public health,” the group said.

They cited as evidence several studies that support the reduction of physical distancing in public utility vehicles.

“A recent study from Duke University, for example, shows that surgical masks reduce droplet transmission by up to 99%, and that the simple act of not talking can reduce droplet counts by up to 4x,” the group said.

“A meta-analysis published on June 22, 2020 in The Lancet, a leading international medical journal, shows that face masks and face shields can independently reduce the chance of viral transmission by up to 5-fold and 3-fold, respectively,” they added.

The panel of experts also said that in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and other countries, passengers wear face masks while sitting side-by-side in trains, while COVID cases remain “manageable.”

“We believe that there is a way forward that carefully balances a careful reopening of public transport capacity, with public health, while allowing purposeful flexibility to re-adjust measures based on actual and evolving data from the ground,” the group said.

They, however, clarified that their proposal has many more layers and that they are still reviewing some studies.

They also underscored the need for more dialogue with other experts and stakeholders about their recommendations.

“Public policy has no quick-and-easy solutions, and addressing the transport crisis in this pandemic is no exception… We also encourage a discussion of other groups’ thoughts on health and other matters, including the overall increase of the supply of safe public transportation,” they said.

The IATF earlier approved a proposal to gradually reduced physical distancing in public transport. The adjustment took effect on Monday, Sept. 14.

Due to differences in views and growing concerns over the policy, Malacañang vowed to look into the issue. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Joan Nano)

Phl total COVID-19 case exceeds half-a-million mark

Maris Federez   •   January 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) has recorded 1,895 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), bringing the overall number of active cases to 24,691.

As of the health department’s 4:00 PM case bulletin on Sunday (January 17), the DOH reported that 5,868 have recuperated from the disease, effecting 435,991 total number of recoveries; and 11 fatalities, tallying to 9,895 total deaths.

These numbers added up to 500,577 COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Meanwhile, the top 5 cities and provinces with new confirmed COVID-19 cases are Davao (107), Quezon City (106), Isabela (65), Pampanga (63), and Bulacan (62).

A large majority (84.6%)  of the reported active cases have exhibited mild symptoms of the disease. Around 6 percent were asymptomatic, while 3 percent manifested severe symptoms. Only less than 1 percent showed moderate symptoms.—/mbmf

Inbound travelers positive for COVID-19 to undergo genome sequencing, DOH says

Robie de Guzman   •   January 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – All travelers who test positive for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) upon arrival in the Philippines will be subjected to genome sequencing to check for the presence of new variants, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

The DOH announced the new directive after a 29-year old Filipino who traveled to Dubai in December tested positive for the more transmissible COVID-19 variant first reported in the United Kingdom.

“There was instruction already na lahat ng parating na pasahero basta’t positive atin na pong isu-isubject sa [genome] sequencing,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual press briefing.

Genomic sequencing is a process that allows scientists to analyze and determine how a virus has mutated and to detect if it has the new variants based on the samples taken from coronavirus-infected patients.

Previously, authorities conducted random sequencing of the samples of inbound passengers who tested positive for COVID-19.

Amid the growing number of cases of new COVID-19 variants, the DOH said the government is strengthening its genomic biosurveillance as it is “not feasible” for the country to totally shut its borders.

“Our safeguard would be the biosurveillance that we will be doing and the strict protocols in our ports of entry,” Vergeire said.

She also pointed out that none of the other countries are implementing a total travel ban amid the reported spread of new coronavirus variants.

“Wala pa naman tayong move na ganyan sa ngayon na pinag-uusapan sa Inter- Agency Task Force… Kailangan lang natin maintindihan na iyon pong mga ibang mga countries na may variant, wala namang community transmission… But, of course, that would be part of something to be considered by the IATF in the coming days,” she said.

Malacañang has announced Friday that the government is extending for another two weeks that travel restrictions on foreign passengers coming from 32 countries. Filipinos coming from countries covered by the travel ban are still allowed to enter the Philippines but will be required to undergo quarantine for two weeks regardless of their COVID-19 test result. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

Close contacts ng Pinoy na may UK COVID-19 variant na ‘di nakikipagtulungan sa otoridad, mahaharap sa parusa – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   January 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Maaaring maharap sa parusa ang sinomang close contact ng Pilipinong nag-positibo sa UK variant ng COVID-19 na hindi makikipagtulungan sa mga otoridad, ayon sa Department of Health (DOH).

Inilabas ng DOH ang babala sa gitna ng ginagawa nitong contact tracing sa lahat ng nakasalamuha ng Pilipinong nagkaroon ng UK coronavirus variant matapos bumiyahe palabas ng bansa noong Disyembre.

Una nang iniulat ng DOH na ang Pilipinong naimpeksyon ng UK COVID-19 variant ay bumiyahe pa-United Arab Emirates noong Disyembre. Umuwi ito sa bansa nitong Enero 7 kasama ang kanyang kasintahan sakay ng eroplanong may lulang 159 iba pang mga pasahero.

Ayon kay Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, 92 porsiyento o 146 na ng close contacts ng pasyente ang nakausap ng DOH. Ang nalalabing 13 naman ay hindi pa umano tumutugon o kaya ay kinakansela ang kanilang tawag.

Paalala ni Vergeire na sa ilalim ng batas, maaaring maharap sa multa o parusang pagkakakulong ang sinomang close contacts ng pasyente na hindi makikipagtulungan sa mga otoridad.

“There is this violation, we have a law, RA 11332, law on notifiable diseases… Maaari po tayong magkaroon ng mga sanctions for these persons especially kung talagang kasama siya as contact siya, and the risk of him spreading the diseases ay nandoon,” ang wika ni Vergeire.

Ayon kay Vergeire, nasa quarantine facilities na ang ilan sa close contacts ng UK variant-positive na pasyante habang ang ilan naman ay pinayagang mag-home quarantine alinsunod sa panuntunan. – RRD (mula sa ulat ni Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

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