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Nationwide round-up

Medical experts support reduced distancing in public transport with ‘7 commandments’

MEDICAL EXPERTS supported the reduction of physical distancing in public transportation and recommended rules on avoiding the spread of coronavirus while opening the economy.

In a statement on Wednesday, the experts said they presented to the inter-agency task force on Monday the “Seven Commandments” that have to be observed in public vehicles.

These are: wearing of proper face masks, wearing of face shields, no talking and no eating, adequate ventilation, frequent and proper disinfection, no symptomatic passengers, and appropriate social distancing.

“These 7 Commandments need to be strictly enforced and independently monitored in their implementation,” said the group composed of doctors with background on public health, epidemiology and infectious diseases.

“By imposing these strict measures, we believe we can gradually relax social distancing rules, in order to double or even triple our current public transport capacity, without compromising public health,” they added.

The doctors also acknowledged that the country “cannot build back the economy” without increasing public transport capacity.

“Based on our review of the scientific literature and the policies and experiences of neighboring countries, we believe the evidence shows physical distancing can be maintained below 1 meter, so long as other health measures are also implemented,” they said.

The one-meter policy is recommended by the World Health organization (WHO).

The group is composed of former health secretaries Manuel M. Dayrit and Esperanza I. Cabral, UP Manila College of Public Health Dean Vicente Y. Belizario Jr., UP Manila Environmental and Occupational Health chair Michael R. Hernandez, and National task Force against COVID-19 special advisor Teodoro J. Herbosa.

They are also joined by Philippine College of Surgeons Cancer Commission Director Manuel Francisco T. Roxas, Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines founder and CEO Ma. Dominga B. Padilla, and Rontgene Solante Infectious Disease Specialist Rontgene M. Solante.

The Department of Transportation, with approval from the national task force, started reducing the distance between passengers to 0.75 meters on Monday.

This will be further decreased to 0.5 meters by September 28 and 0.3 on October 12.

The new policy has been criticized by various sectors, including Interior and Government Secretary Eduardo M. Ano, citing public health risks.

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said President Rodrigo R. Duterte is already evaluating the policy and will make a decision by Thursday.

“We had a six-hour meeting yesterday to reassess the policy… and it would be the President who will ultimately decide,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Gillian M. Cortez

Task force recommendation: Let health workers with overseas contracts as of Aug. 31 to leave

THE INTER-AGENCY task force handling the coronavirus response has recommended to extend the coverage of exempted health workers for deployment abroad to those with contracts as of Aug. 31.

In an online briefing on Wednesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said their proposal is up for review by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Mr. Duterte ordered the deployment ban in March following the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

An exemption was later made for health workers with contracts as of March 8.

Mr. Bello said he will still not recommend a total lifting of the deployment ban, citing country’s need for more medical manpower amid the pandemic.

“Under the present situation, I am not confident that the clamor for the total lifting of the deployment ban will be favorably acted upon. I, for one, will not recommend because we will have to think of our country,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez

Quarantine violator Sinas should not be promoted — solons

THE FREEMAN

THE MAKABAYAN bloc in the House of Representatives slammed the police chief’s announcement that Metro Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Debold M. Sinas, who drew flak for his birthday “mananita” during the community quarantine period, will likely get promoted.

In a statement on Wednesday, Bayan Muna Party-list, one of the bloc members, said the promotion of Mr. Sinas would be a big “slap” to the Filipino people who have been subjected to unfair treatments and “draconian” measures.

“He should not be promoted. A promotion for a quarantine violator like Debold Sinas is a big slap to the Filipinos,” the group said.

In May, Mr. Sinas made headlines after his own police office posted photos of his birthday celebration where not everyone were wearing masks, physical distancing was not observed, and alcoholic drinks were evident — all in violation of the quarantine protocols imposed by the government. Social gatherings were also still prohibited at that time.

Despite the public outrage and calls to sack Mr. Sinas, President Rodrigo R. Duterte defended him saying that he will “not order his transfer.”

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Internal Affairs Service reportedly filed charges against Mr. Sinas and other police officials involved in the incident, but there has so far been no announcement of the result of the cases.

BayanMuna challenged the Duterte administration to show some “delicadeza” and order the resignation of Mr. Sinas. “Where is the delicadeza the PNP and the whole government? This government is a big circus, but one that is not funny,” the progressive group said.

“No one is above the law. They should set an example.”

PNP chief General Camilo Pancratius P. Cascolan said in an interview on ANC on Wednesday morning that Mr. Sinas “deserves” a promotion, hinting that he might be given a directorial staff position.

Mr. Cascolan said Mr. Sinas “has done good things” as commander of the National Capital Region (NCR) police office.

“We have to evaluate him properly. The guy deserves also an evaluation and of course, a promotion, too,” Mr. Cascolan said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Emmanuel Tupas/PHILSTAR

Local governments wary of resuming provincial bus services from Metro Manila

MOST LOCAL governments are hesitant to open their borders for buses from Metro Manila as the government eyes resuming provincial bus operations this month.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Chair Martin B. Delgra, III said only four out of 81 provinces nationwide agreed to reopen their borders following a consultation with local leaders.

“Out of 81 provinces, the only response we got among the provinces who would be willing to open their borders to admit passengers from Metro Manila are just four. So because of that, we will have to prepare nevertheless to open provincial bus routes on a limited capacity,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.

Last Monday, the Department of Transportation said the LTFRB will be releasing its guidelines on the resumption of provincial bus operations this week.

“Hopefully, we are looking at a timeline of within the month, we will be opening the provincial bus routes coming from Metro Manila or ending in Metro Manila,” Mr. Delgra said.

Metro Manila, the nation’s capital, has been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, accounting for over half of the total cases.

Meanwhile, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration head Hans Leo J. Cacdac reported during the same briefing that over 200,000 overseas Filipino workers have been transported to their hometowns from Metro Manila as of September 16.

“As of today… 202,000 na po ang napauwi (have been sent home),” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez