COVID-19: Philippines' Duterte keeps 1m social distancing rule

COVID-19: Philippines' Duterte keeps 1m social distancing rule

ASEAN leaders attend a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to retain the 1m social distance requirement on public transport to reduce coronavirus infections, rejecting moves to reduce it to 30cm, his spokesman said on Saturday (Sep 19).

Health experts have warned that reducing gaps between passengers in trains, buses and jeepneys could result in a surge of infections in the Philippines, which has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

Duterte studied recommendations and decided to retain the 1m distancing requirement, including a ban on eating and speaking in public transport, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told state-run PTV4 network. Passengers still need to wear face shield and mask at all times, he added.

READ: Strict mask, visor rules make Philippine commuters sweat

READ: Philippines 30cm distancing rule seen as 'reckless'; COVID-19 deaths hit record

The transport ministry, which cut the distance to 75cm on Monday, 50cm on Sep 28 and 30cm on Oct 12 to accommodate more passengers returning to work as the economy gradually reopens, said it will comply with the president's decision.

"We shall aggressively comply and strictly enforce the 1m physical distancing in all public transport as envisioned and mandated," the transport ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The World Health Organization recommends at least 1m of distancing to avoid the spread of the virus.

Manila's transport systems are notoriously crowded, with commutes typically involving long queues and several changes.

READ: Philippines considers relaxing COVID-19 travel ban for nurses

Experts and medical professionals have described as dangerous and premature a reduction in distancing requirement, warning it could prolong a first wave of infections that the Philippines has been battling since March.

The Philippines has nearly 280,000 infections, more than a third of which were reported in the past 30 days, and 4,830 deaths, the second most in Southeast Asia, next only to Indonesia.

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Source: Reuters/ta