Why One-Meter Physical Distancing Matters in Saving Thousands of Lives

Step back to move forward.
Photo/s: Jerome Ascaño

Commuters in the Philippines will continue to be seated at least one meter apart in all forms of public transport after President Rodrigo Duterte heard the argument against slowly shrinking the required distance at this time. Scientists agree one meter—three feet, or roughly as tall as a toddler— is the minimum physical distancing requirement.

Transport authorities had wanted to shave 0.25 meter off the current standard, that's close to 10 inches or about a size 8 men's shoe. Standing back, literally by one step, could save thousands of lives, according to a simulation from the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19.

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Cited by Health Secretary Francisco Duque during a Sept. 14 Cabinet meeting, the HPAAC simulation predicted 686 new COVID-19 cases per day if daily ridership was at half capacity. This would lead to 20,580 new cases per month and given the current fatality rate, there could be 3,951 deaths in a year. The HPAAC model was made with the Asian Institute of Management.

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Duque said there were also arguments for the reduction to 0.75 meter. Sec. Carlito Galvez, the chief implementer of the government's COVID-19 response, said there would be mitigating measures had this pushed through such a strict implementation of no talking, no eating and no cellphone use.

Jerome Ascano

The World Health Organization recommends a minimum one-meter distance. The Lancet Journal, in its study of 172 sites across 16 countries found that virus transmission was lower with physical distancing of one meter compared with a distance of below one meter.

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In some shopping malls, shoppers are encouraged to keep two meters apart, that's roughly six feet or as tall as a professional basketball player.

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Duterte during his late night address on Sept. 14 again urged the public to wear face masks. Face shields alone will not guard against infection, he said. In an air-conditioned vehicle, an insufficiently covered face can make a commuter vulnerable to COVID-19, he said.

"It's physics," the President said. "It's an everyday equation for humanity."

Physical distancing ensures that people are at a safe distance from another person's respiratory droplets, the vessel that carriers the coronavirus. This could be a cough, sneeze or just plain talking.

Jerome Ascano
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The face mask and face shield combo provides nearly 100% protection since the openings in the face area are covered, infectious disease expert Nina Gloriani, former dean of the UP College of Public Health told reportr earlier

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Keep quiet, acording to authorities. No talking and no eating means no droplets in the air, said Galvez.

Based on hospital data, Galvez said public transportation is not the most vulnerable. It's the places where people talk with their face masks and face shields off.

This includes the house, the office and the canteen, Galvez said. There are three "Cs" to avoid, he said -- "crowding, close contact and confined spaces."

Remember that current quarantine classifications are good only until Sept. 30 and by Oct. 1, depending on the trajectory of infections, the GCQ in Metro Manila could change.

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