Philippines 30cm coronavirus distancing rule seen as ‘reckless’

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Move to reduce gaps between passengers could backfire, experts warn

MANILA: The Philippines' decision to cut the social distancing minimum to 30cm on public transport was described by experts yesterday as dangerous and premature, as the country saw another daily record in Covid-19 deaths.

Reducing gaps between passengers incrementally to a third of the 1m minimum could backfire, experts and medical professionals warned, and prolong a first wave of infections that the Philippines has been battling since March.

The new rules took effect yesterday, when the country reported 259 deaths, a record for the second time in three days.

Total fatalities increased to 4,630, while infections have doubled in the past 35 days to 265,888, South-east Asia's highest number.

"This will be risky, reckless and counter-intuitive and will delay the flattening of the curve," Dr Anthony Leachon, ex-president of the Philippine College of Physicians, told news channel ANC.

"Even if you wear a face shield and mask, reducing the distance between, it will be dangerous," he said, adding that 1m or 2m was the minimum international standard.

The transport ministry's new rules cut the distance to 75cm yesterday, 50cm on Sept 28 and 30cm on Oct 12.

Conversations and phone calls on public transport are now prohibited. Manila's transport systems are notoriously crowded, with commutes typically involving long queues.

"It is likely we will see an increase in cases and our recovery will slow if we do this now," said epidemiologist Antonio Dans.

The plan aims to help an economy that the government sees contracting 5.5 per cent this year, the worst shrinkage in 35 years.

"Reopening the economy will never happen unless the viral transmission is controlled," added Dr Leachon, a former adviser to the government's Covid-19 task force.

Meanwhile, Indonesia reported 3,141 cases yesterday, taking the total number to 221,523.

There were 118 deaths, taking the total to 8,841, the highest death toll in South-east Asia. It is the seventh consecutive day the authorities have reported more than 3,000 new cases.

Malaysia reported 31 cases yesterday, bringing the total to 9,946. The death toll remains at 128. - REUTERS, THE STAR