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Public health expert warns of viral transmission increase over reduced physical distancing in public transport

Special on Saturday host Henry Uri and guest Dr. Tony Leachon, public health expert

MANILA—As the government approved to reduce the physical distancing to less than one meter in the public transportation, a public health expert expressed alarm that it will increase viral transmission in the absence of scientific basis.

Dr. Tony Leachon, public health expert, in an interview in the DZRH Special of Saturday (SOS) program, September 12, sees the danger of increased viral transmission especially in the enclosed commuter trains plying the Metro Manila when the government decided to reduce the physical distancing in the public transportation.

Leachon said he searched for the basis of less than one-meter physical distancing but only found from the literature of the World Health Organization (WHO) that one meter is the minimum distance for physical distancing to prevent viral transmission.

“Pag less than one meter mag-i-increase ka ng viral transmission (If less than one meter you will increase the viral transmission),” he said.

Leachon said in Europe the physical distancing is 1.5 meters while in the United States the proposed physical distancing in 2 meters.

On Friday (September 11), the government’s Economic Development Cluster (EDC) and the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) proposal to reduce the physical distance between passengers to 0.75 meters beginning September 14 was approved and supported by the National Task Force against COVID-19 and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease.

The government also approved further reduction of the physical distancing between passengers for the need to safely optimize the carrying capacity of various public transport mode” to 0.5 meters after two weeks, and to 0.3 meters after another two weeks.

Leachon said the “universality of application” of the new guidelines contradict other guidelines of other agencies that promote physical distancing of at least one meter like in groceries and markets.

He said that reducing the physical distancing may be more applicable to buses and jeepneys with open windows because one study shows that viral transmission could be less likely in none enclosed areas.

Leachon said the physical distancing must not be reduced but instead the units of public transportation must be increased if only to optimize the number of passengers.

He said the government should stick to one-meter physical distancing because the cases are still high.

“Hindi pa ho tayo out of danger. Mataas pa ang ating cases. Baka ho di pa tayo nagtatamasa ng magandang pangitaan according to the UP research, suddenly paggawan natin ng less than one meter (physical distancing) sa public transport nag-increase naman ang cases natin lalo na National Caputal Region ang epicenter natin,” Leachon said.

(We are not yet out of danger. Our cases are still high. We are not even enjoying yet the good projection according to the UP research, suddenly we did the less than one meter (physical distancing) in public transport the cases will increase again specially that our epicenter is the National Capital Region.)

He said last Friday (September 11) the cases have reached 4,000 which was one of the highest since August 30 while the past days the record showed it was going down.

However, Leachon said, the UP research group has shown decreasing reproductive transmission data of 0.94 in Metro Manila and 0.92 all over the country.

He said surges were noted in the Bacolod and Leyte which are the challenges in the fight against the pandemic right now.

“Hopefully, ma-contain natin ang areas na iyon at ipagpatuloy ang pagbabantay dito, lalo na sa National Capital Region. Kailangan natin ang pagsusumikap na ma-maintain ang minimum health standards para patuloy na natin ma-flat ang curve ng NCR at pati na ang buong Pilipinas,” Leachon said.

(Hopefully, we contain those areas and continue to keep guard, especially the National Capital Region. We need to pursue maintaining the minimum health standards in order that we can continue to flatten the curve in NCR and all over the Philippines, as well.)

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