The one-meter physical distance requirement between commuters in all forms of public transport will remain, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman said Saturday, after health frontliners warned that reducing it at this time could undo the Philippines' gains in the fight against COVID-19.
Precautions also remain -- face masks and face shields at all times and while inside public transport vehicles, there should be no talking and no eating, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told state broadcaster PTV.
Roque did not address an earlier recommendation by Sec. Carlito Galvez, the chief implementer of the government's pandemic-fighting strategy, that mobile phone use could also be banned in public transport. Saturday's announcement was the result of a Cabinet study on social distancing.
The same frontliners who called for a timeout last August last Monday said reducing the physical distance to 0.75 meter could result in more infections. The Philippines can't afford it at a time when there are signs of a "flattening of the curve" or a slowdown in infections by September.
The distance requirement was shrunk to 0.75 meter but was restored to one meter the following day after frontliners expressed concerns. The one-meter minimum distance is backed by the World Health Organization.
The Philippines will remain under a State of Calamity until September 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Duterte's order that was released to the public Friday.
This means the President have powers that would otherwise be unavailable if the country is not under a State of Calamity, among them, price caps, price ceilings, rice importations and the offer of interest-free loans.