Group of medical experts back reduced distancing policy in public transport

Robie de Guzman   •   September 15, 2020   •   202

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)

Quezon City mayor cancels city hall parties, to donate funds

Robie de Guzman   •   September 29, 2020

Parties for all offices under the Quezon City government during the holidays will no longer be held this year amid the continuing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said Tuesday.

A statement released on Tuesday said Belmonte has issued a memorandum directing all offices under the city hall to cancel parties scheduled in December and instead ordered them to donate the funds to underprivileged groups.

“The money that would have been spent on office Christmas parties would do more good as donations to the underprivileged during this extraordinarily difficult time in our nation’s history,” Belmonte said in a statement.

The local chief executive stressed that “it would be inappropriate for offices of the city government to hold customary Christmas parties while many of its citizens are experiencing hardships due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.”

Instead of holding parties, she urged city hall employees to adopt an underprivileged sector— such as the urban poor, displaced workers, jeepney drivers, street vendors, indigent children, and poor senior citizens— and to modestly celebrate the season in their homes.

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Batanes records first COVID-19 case

Robie de Guzman   •   September 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The province of Batanes on Tuesday said it has recorded its first case of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) since the start of the pandemic early this year.

According to Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco, the province reported its first COVID-19 case after a 29-year old resident who returned on Sept. 22 tested positive for the virus.

He has a travel history in Santa Rosa, Laguna. He returned to the province on board a Philippine Air Force plane with 18 others.

Cayco said the patient is asymptomatic and currently under isolation and monitoring of the provincial COVID-19 task force.

She added that all 18 individuals who had close contact with the patient have been subjected to swab test and are now strictly being monitored.

Batanes is currently under a modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) but the local government will recommend to place the province under a two-week GCQ to curb the spread of coronavirus disease.

Cayco said outpost checkpoints will also be set up in all municipalities to monitor and limit the movement of people.

Airport operations and commercial flights to and from the province will also be suspended.

“Medivac lang ang pwedeng pumunta dito in some emergency cases. Pero yung commercial flights pina-stop muna namin,” she said.

The local government reminds residents to follow health protocols such as the wearing of face masks and face shields and observe physical distancing. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dan Gersalia)

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DOH allows private companies to implement lockdown

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 29, 2020

The Department of Health (DOH) will allow private companies to implement lockdown in their offices or health care facilities to prevent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) exposure.

DOH Spokesperson Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said aside from the minimum health protocols, private companies should also consider the mental health of their employees if they will implement a lockdown.

For example may mga ibang ospital (For example, there are hospitals) that would rather have their employees stay with them, they have their dormitory. Wala munang uuwi dito muna kasi kapag umuwi kayo sa community you go back at nadadala niyo ang mga impeksyon dito (No one will go home yet because, once you go home to your community and you come back, you might bring the infection here), she said.

According to the Health Department, the duration of the lockdown will depend on the agreement between the company and its employees. She also reminded employees that they can also decline being put into lockdown.

Hindi naman dapat pumayag din ang isang employee kung iyan ay labag sa kaniya. Mayroon naman silang ganoong karapatan kailangan lang po na naipapaliwang ng maayos (Employees don’t need to agree if they don’t want to. They have the right to do so. Things must be explained properly),Vergeire added.

The health official also reminded private companies to make sure that their employees understand the reason behind the lockdown, taking into account the difficulty of being away from their families especially during the pandemic.

Vergeire also said employees should also be able to talk to experts with regards to their mental health.

“It is okay not to be okay especially at this time during our situation in the pandemic. Okay lang po iyan lahat tayo nakakaramdam ng ganiyan (That’s okay, we all feel that). We just have to have that coping mechanism,” she said. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

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