A group of health experts has recommended the increase of public transportation capacity in the country. Such proposed increase would be governed by strict social distancing measures while providing livelihood to Filipinos amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group, led by former Health Secretary Dr. Manuel Dayrit and the University of the Philippines-Manila College of Public Health Dean Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., has submitted their recommendations to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
The medical experts urged the government to increase public transportation including the railway, bus, jeepney, and motorcycle taxis while easing the social distancing rules under strict health protocols.
The group added that a consultation must be done with the private medical community including the Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) as being part of the technical working group, before the IATF released the policy.
“While the efforts of the IATF, the Department of Health (DOH), and the One Hospital Command to address the COVID-19 pandemic have successfully increased and improved current hospital capacity, there is now an urgent need to revitalize our country,” the group said in a position paper.
“We need to emerge from the current recession that has severely impacted livelihoods. This will enable our countrymen to work again, so that they can feed their families and support their communities. The economic enablement of Filipinos translates to their health and welfare,” they added.
The health experts said that they are advocating the strict implementation of 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 and appropriate physical distancing.”
“We believe that the combination of these measures will be amongst the most comprehensive in the world, based on our consultation with international experts. 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.
The group has also cited a recent study from the Duke University that showed surgical masks reduce droplet transmission by up to 99 percent and the simple act of not talking can reduce droplet counts by up to 4 times.
They also added that in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and other countries, passengers wear face masks while sitting side-by-side in trains while COVID-19 cases remain manageable.
The health experts said regarding the recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) of “at least 1 meter distance from other passengers when purchasing tickets, waiting to board public transport, and moving around public transport stations,” 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. 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,” the medical experts added.
The medical experts also encouraged the IATF to have a discussion of other groups’ thoughts on health and transportation matters.
“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,” they added.
The other health experts who signed the statement were Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr, dean of UP-Manila College of Public Health; Dr. Teodoro Herbosa, special advisor for National Task Force Against COVID-19; Dr. Michael Hernandez, department of UP-Manila Environmental and Occupational Health; Dr. Manuel Francisco Roxas, director of Philippine College of Surgeons Cancer Commision; Dr. Rontgene Solante, an infectious disease specialist; and Dr. Ma. Dominga Padilla, founder of Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. (With a report from Analou de Vera)