In the last few days, we have witnessed an unprecedented confusion among our officials on the simple matter of retaining or revising the one-meter rule in physical distancing among people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
We cannot really understand why these officials have been bickering on this non-issue. And why it took the President to finally decide to maintain the current rule on physical distancing which could have been decided by his subalterns.
It all started when the Department of Transportation (DOTr) decided on its own to reduce the distance between passengers in PUVs from one meter to 0.75 meter starting September 14 then to 0.5 meter and finally to 0.3 meter with two weeks intervals in between.
Obviously the DOTr’s decision was not cleared with the Inter-Agency Task Force on emerging infectious disease (IATF-EID), the policy-making body in the fight against Covid-19.
What followed was a howl of protests not only from Metro mayors but also from the Department of Health (DOH) and the frontliners. The universal reaction was that the one-meter physical distancing, and not an inch shorter, was the scientifically-proven antidote to the coronavirus spread.
DOTr’s Art Tugade reportedly supported Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the country’s national strategy against the Covid-19, while those against were Interior and Local Government Secretary Interior Eduardo Año and Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
We fully understand the idea behind Tugade’s action, which is to accommodate more passengers in PUVs and LRT coaches and thus lessen the suffering of commuters. But if the result of reducing physical distancing is to endanger the lives of more people, then we believe that it is better to retain the current distancing rule.
There is also a unique phenomenon in our war against Covid-19: most of those running the anti-Covid 19 program are former military generals. This is happening only in the Philippines. Both Galvez and Año are former AFP chief of staff.
Interestingly, this kind of confusion is also happening in the U.S. where President Trump is being contradicted by his own Center for Disease Control on the efficacy of using face masks in thwarting the spread of the virus and the availability of the anti-Covid vaccine. Actually, the confusion there is graver compared to what we have here.