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Palace: Duterte says one-meter physical distancing will be maintained in public transpo

President Rodrigo Duterte said the one-meter physical distancing in public transportation will remain, Palace spokesperson Harry Roque announced on Saturday.

"Mananatili po ang one-meter distancing sa pampublikong transportasyon," Roque said on government-run PTV4.

"Sasamahan din ng pagsuot ng face mask at face shield," he added.

"Bawal po ang salita, bawal ang pagkain sa mga pampublikong transportasyon," Roque said.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Saturday said it will comply with the President's directive.

"The President has spoken. We shall aggressively comply and strictly enforce the 1-meter physical distancing in all public transport as envisioned and mandated," it said in a statement.

Also, the Department of Health on Saturday expressed support for Duterte's decision.

Interviewed at the Laging Handa public briefing, DOH spokesperson undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the 1-meter distance protocol was based on the "minimum health standards." 

Duterte made the decision on Friday night, the Palace spokesperson said.

The one-meter physical distancing in public transportation implemented earlier was reduced to 0.75 meter last week.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade announced then that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) had approved the proposal pushed by the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) and the DOTr to increase ridership in public transportation by “optimizing” or reducing the physical distance between commuters.

It could be further reduced to 0.5 meters after two weeks, and to 0.3 meters after another two weeks, he added.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año however said the DOTr released the operational guidelines on reduced physical distancing in public transport without consulting health experts.

Metro Manila mayors also said they were not consulted.

However, the implementation of reduced physical distancing in public transport amid the COVID-19 pandemic is based on studies of experts in railways and medical fields, according to DOTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon.

“Pinagbasehan po namin dito 'yung pag-aaral ng ibang eksperto, katulad po sa train 'yung International Union of Railways, na nakikita na hindi naman ganun kailangan talagang kalaki ang distansya,” Tuazon said.

Tugade also defended the decision to reduce social distancing in public transport, saying it was a product of research and simulation by the Philippine National Railways.

He also said other countries have reduced the physical distance "from one meter and downwards."

Medical experts and a research team in the University of the Philippines however opposed the reduced physical distancing, saying it may lead to more cases of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization recommended a one-meter distance from others to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Philippines has recorded a total of 279,526 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday. Of this number, 4,830 died and 208,790 recovered. —KG, GMA News