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MANILA – Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade has suspended the implementation of the reduced 0.75-meter physical distancing among passengers while waiting for the decision of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the matter, Malacañang said on Thursday.

In a virtual Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Tugade manifested his decision to revert physical distancing in public transportation to one meter in a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) on Thursday.

“So, suspended po ang 0.75, balik po sa one meter habang wala pang decision ang ating Presidente sa bagay na ito (So, the 0.75 meter rule is suspended. We are back to the one-meter rule until the President decides on this matter,” Roque said in a virtual briefing.

Roque said Duterte might decide on the new DOTr policy in his regular “Talk to the People” on Monday (September 21).

“Kaugnay nito, sinabi ko po na baka today (Sept. 17) ang decision ni President, baka hindi po mangyari yan, dahil ang report po na pag-aaralan ng Presidente ay isusumite pa lamang today at siguro po magkakaroon ng decision ang Presidente sa susunod na Lunes sa kanyang talumpati sa taong bayan (In relation to this, I said that the President might decide today, it might not happen because the President has still to review the report which will be submitted today and perhaps the President will have his decision next Monday in his talk to the people),” Roque said.

On Wednesday, Roque said the IATF-EID met for six hours on September 15 to reassess the policy to relax physical distancing guidelines following opposition from medical groups.

He said the task force has decided to come up with a recommendation that it submitted to Duterte on Thursday.

Roque said Tugade decided to suspend the 0.75 meter physical distancing between passengers so as not to pressure the President.

“Kanina po nagsalita si Sec. Tugade, ang sabi nya (A while ago, Secretary Tugade said) because I don’t want to pressure the President into making his decision as if he is duty bound to make it in a period of time dahil kung i-implement yan, (if it will be implemented) it becomes urgent, the President must act on it right away. So, he said, to give the President all the time he needs to study the matter, balik muna tayo sa (return first to) one meter and until he says so, we will not implement the 0.75 (meter),” Roque said.

On Monday, the government started implementing the directive to decrease physical distancing inside public utility vehicles to 0.75 meters from one meter.

The distancing would then be reduced to 0.5 meters (approximately 1.8 feet) on Sept. 28 and 0.3 meters starting October 12.

Medical experts opposed the move, warning that it could lead to an increase in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infections.

Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said they prefer a one-meter distance between passengers to contain the spread of the Covid-19.

In an signing of a memorandum of agreement on Wednesday, Año said he supports the one-meter distance as it follows the minimum health standard, saying the economy can be opened but to sacrifice the one-meter distance is “non-negotiable”.

The easing of physical distancing also drew support from a group of medical experts and government health officials.

The group, led by former Department of Health (DOH) secretary, Dr. Manuel Dayrit , said that while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a one-meter distance in public transportation, a gradual reduction to 0.5 meter or lower is feasible with the help of other health policies.

“We believe the evidence shows physical distancing can be maintained below one meter, so long as other health measures are also implemented,” the group said in a statement.

In the same Palace virtual presser, Dayrit, however, said if the physical distancing is below one meter the protection is “graduated.”

“Based on studies, the protection is highest if it is one meter of it (physical distancing),” he said. (PNA)

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