IATF to tackle reduced distancing in public transport anew

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 9) — Now may be the best time to revive talks to relax physical distancing in public transport, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Friday.

Key to plans to revive the economy and get more people back to work is public transportation, which is said to be holding back the country's growth rebound.

Nograles said they are now in talks with health experts – including those who rejected the original plan in September – to explore the reduction of the required spacing between commuters aboard buses, trains, and jeepneys.

"Maybe now is the time, nasa Phase 3 na rin tayo ng ating National Action Plan, na pag-usapan natin muli itong sinasabi nating capacities of our public transportation," Nograles, also co-chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force, told CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: Maybe now is the time, we are under Phase 3 of our National Action Plan as well, for us to talk about the capacities of our public transportation.]

"I think they are open now to start beginning and slowly, gradually but safely opening up public transport some more," he added.

He said health groups are aware of the need to raise ridership in public utility vehicles, adding that timing is crucial. Now may be a better time with the case reproduction rate, positivity rate, and attack rate declining while local healthcare capacity and patient recoveries are increasing, Nograles pointed out.

Last month, the Department of Transportation reduced the distance between commuters inside mass transit initially to 0.75 meter. This was to be further brought down to 0.5 meter, then to 0.3 meter. However, the plan was rescinded by President Rodrigo Duterte amid warnings from some members of the medical community, and the one-meter distance requirement between passengers was restored.

RELATED: Doctor says easing social distancing for commuters makes 'very small difference' in COVID-19 fight

Commuters are required to wear face masks and face shields when riding PUVs, while temperatures are taken before boarding.

The World Health Organization recommends maintaining a one-meter distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is transmitted through respiratory droplets.

Duterte will convene a full Cabinet meeting on Monday, October 12, to discuss the renewed appeal of the economic team to allow more sectors to operate and for those who have reopened to increase their capacity, officials said.

Nograles added the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is now focusing on risk management rather than risk aversion in terms of coronavirus infections.

There are more than 330,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country as of Thursday. More than 270,000 have recovered from the disease but over 6,000 people died.

"If you want to jumpstart the economy, you have to ensure that people who want to work are able to get to work by the efficient public transport system," the Cabinet official said, pointing out that the IATF's recommendation to bring back the motorcycle taxi pilot run is also aligned with this goal.

READ: Economic team tells IATF to reopen more industries as vaccine not expected until mid-2021