A GROUP of medical societies has opposed a government decision to relax social distancing rules in public utility vehicles, which it said could lead to a fresh spike in coronavirus infections.

“It’s too early,” Antonio Dans of the Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 told an online briefing on Monday, even as he noted that social distancing measures have to be relaxed eventually to open the economy further.

“When we look at the curve of this pandemic, it shows that it’s too early to relax social distancing rules, otherwise cases could surge and our recovery will slow,” he said in Filipino.

He also said they continue to talk to government officials to ensure the right policies are in place to address issues on health and the economy during the pandemic.

The Department of Transportation (DoT) on Saturday said it would relax the distance between passengers from a meter to 0.75 meter starting Monday, 0.5 meter on Sept. 28 and 0.3 meter on Oct. 12 to cater to more passengers.

The Department of Health (DoH) on Sunday urged Filipinos to be “extra vigilant” in places where they can’t observe social distancing and if possible, use transportation or join activities where they can maintain a one-meter distance from others.

It reminded the public to practice health protocols and for senior citizens and people who are immunocompromised to stay home.

Meanwhile, Transportation undersecretary Artemio U. Tuazon, Jr. said that the latest protocol was meant to optimize passenger capacity in public transportation. He also said this was because other precautionary measures are taken before one can commute.

“We are not just reducing social distancing,” he told a separate online briefing on Monday in Filipino. “We are implementing several protocols.”

The risk of transmitting the coronavirus is slow as long as physical distancing is coupled with the mandatory use of face masks and shields and passengers refrain from speaking, Mr. Tuazon said.

Health experts said a meter or more of physical distancing was needed to reduce the risk of getting the virus.

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told a news briefing they would discuss the protocol again at the next meeting of the inter-agency task force against the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tuazon said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) would issue the rules this week allowing provincial buses to operate again in Metro Manila. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Gillian M. Cortez