MANILA, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Philippine transport authorities have prohibited chatting on Metro Manila trains as an added measure to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, a spokesperson for the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) said on Friday.
The new policy prohibits passengers from talking or answering calls on mobile phones, or through any other device while on the commuter trains in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic in the Philippines.
In a direct message to Xinhua, LRTA spokesman Hernando Cabrera said that the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) has adopted the "no talking" policy "as an added safety measure" to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"We are strictly implementing the no talking policy," Cabrera said, adding this was already posted on the LRT-2 Facebook page to alert the train commuters.
Cabrera said the policy was first implemented by the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3). "Then it was adopted by Manila Light Rail Transit System (LRT-1), and in our last coordination meeting with the Department of Transportation, LRT 2 has adopted it as well," he added.
For now, Cabrera said there are no sanctions for violators. However, he added that violators will be properly educated about the importance of not talking on trains.
"And then we will evaluate later our next steps. If the commuters will defy this rule, then we will be forced to implement stricter action against them," he said.
Cabrera said the new measure aims to curb possible transmission of the disease through the secretion of respiratory droplets that occur when talking.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the transmission of the coronavirus can occur through respiratory droplets which are expelled when an infected person talks, coughs, sneezes or sings.
Aside from banning small talk, train authorities also reminded train commuters to always wear face mask. Otherwise, commuters will be refused entry.
The advisory came a few days after the elevated rail system operations were suspended after more than 200 MRT-3 employees, including ticket sellers and train drivers, contracted the virus last week, forcing the company to temporarily suspend its operations for five days.
When the train resumed operations on Monday, the MRT-3 management started to require passengers to write down their contacts on a health declaration form that will be submitted to the staff before boarding. The data compiled will be used in conducting contact tracing in case of an outbreak, the management added.
Train employees in full protective gear take the passengers' temperature before they are allowed to enter the train stations. The staff also make sure that social distancing is strictly followed.
Cabrera said that train cars, ticket dispensers, handrails, elevators and escalators are disinfected every 45 minutes to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
Train and rail operations were suspended when the government imposed a lockdown in mid-March to contain the virus. The trains were allowed to operate at reduced capacity on June 1 after the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were slightly eased in order to reopen the economy.
The Philippines now has 63,001 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 1,660 deaths and 21,748 recoveries.