Action for Economic Reforms (AER) expresses its serious concern over the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Economic Development Cluster (EDC)’s policy proposal to reduce physical distancing between passengers inside public transport units. We emphasize that any action by government agencies, national or local, related to flattening the COVID-19 curve must be guided by Department of Health (DOH) protocol.

Although COVID-19 positivity rates are decreasing, we are still at a very critical period. While opening the economy and allowing public transport in order to recover livelihoods is welcome, this needs to be accompanied by strict physical distancing rules.

Lessons from countries with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases are fresh and stark. They show that the success of containing the spread of COVID-19 is contingent on the simultaneous implementation of social distancing, wearing masks, and other health and safety practices.

The strict enforcement of health protocol while aboard public transport, such as the mandatory wearing of face masks and face shields, and barring passengers from talking or making phone calls, needs to be coupled with strict physical distancing to prevent a resurgence of cases.

Reducing physical distancing on public transport conveys a signal to the public that things are now normal, which will result in complacency in practicing social distancing. It is such complacency that triggers resurgence.

The DOTr’s proposal of reducing physical distancing between commuters to an initial .75 meter, then to 0.5 meter, and later to 0.3 meter, is bereft of scientific evidence and lacks proper vetting and peer review. It is best to follow the protocol of healthcare professionals and the DOH, who have yet to withdraw social distancing. This norm should apply to all, and is most especially pertinent to public transport.

In conclusion, we call on the Department of Transportation and the IATF to ensure that mass public transportation conforms to the highest health and safety standards, and to ensure that their policies are guided by Department of Health protocol. Opening the economy and recovering livelihood without endangering the health of commuters necessitates policies and safety protocol which are data-driven and scientifically sound.