South Africans are not happy with having to contend with winter chills in taxis, as medical experts and the government alike urge taxi drivers and commuters to keep open windows as a Covid-19 preventative measure.
In early July, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that taxis undertaking local trips will now be permitted to increase their capacity to 100%, while long distance taxis will not be allowed to exceed 70% occupancy, on condition that new risk mitigation protocols related to masks, vehicle sanitising and open windows are followed.
Following the presidential address, Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, said that “bus, taxi and e-hailing, meter taxis, shuttle services, chauffeur-driven vehicles and scholar transport vehicles are permitted to carry 100% of licensed carry capacity for any trip not regarded as long-distance travel.”
Mbalula noted that consultations with health experts had taken place, and that “their additional recommendations in the face of the increased loading capacity were duly considered and accepted.”
Minimise time, minimise risk
However, the South African Medical Association President Dr Angelique Coetzee has warned that commuters who spend more than 20 minutes in a poorly ventilated taxi are at higher risk of contracting the Covid–19 virus.
SAMA has also advised their members – medical doctors who wear either an N95 or a three–layer mask – to not exceed a consultation time of 15 minutes, when they are in close proximity to a patient.
“They need to move out of the space of the patient and within more than 1.5 metres away from that patient. That is what we are advising our doctors,” says Coetzee.
She continues: “Because if you are within 1.5 metres, in close proximity with someone, and you have been together for more than 20 minutes, you have a higher chance of contracting the virus.”
Proper ventilation is key
“With the new information available, we know that this virus is partly airborne, which means you need to open the windows whether it’s four o’clock in the morning, whether it’s raining, it’s snowing, it doesn’t matter because you need air movement inside of a closed setting,” she tells Health-e News.
Proper ventilation, in the form of open windows, because even more important in light of the way that Covid-19 spreads. Coetzee says that Covid-19 cannot be “negotiated” with, and so commuters need to be vigilant and compliant with the Covid-19 preventative measures.
“This virus doesn’t belong to a trade union or a political party where you can go and sit and negotiate with the virus,” she says.
Health-e News visited Rosebank Taxi Rank to find out how taxi drivers and commuters feel about the new transport regulations.
Betty Mnguni, who uses public transport to travel to work said that she doesn’t have a problem with taxis operating at full capacity “as long as everyone is wearing their mask.”
“When the taxi is not full, drivers don’t get enough money – they get half price. I don’t have a problem as long as everyone wears their masks,” she says.
Another commuter, Sakha Mbatha, says that “the government is trying but it’s a problem to us because the government officials don’t open windows in their own cars.”
“Opening windows in the morning is like being in a bakkie. I am not happy with that,” he explains.
Mbatha added that, although the 70% taxi capacity is a good strategy, the problem is that taxi drivers are at a financial disadvantage.
The introduction of additional measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in a 100% loaded public transport vehicle includes the following:
- All operators must ensure that public transport vehicles are sanitised before picking up and after dropping off passengers.
- All public transport vehicles windows must be keptfivecm open on both sides.
- All public transport vehicles must be fitted with window jammers or blockers in order to keep the windowsfivecm open.
- Operators must ensure that all public transport vehicle doors, window handles, arm rests andhand-railsare sanitised after every load.
- Passengers must be encouraged to sanitise after they enter the vehicle and after getting off the vehicle.
- Any marshal or security officer who interacts with members of the public in a public transport facility must wear a cloth face mask or a homemade item or another appropriate item that covers nose and mouth,together with face shield.
- Passengers in public transport vehicles are obliged to wear a cloth face mask or a homemade item or another appropriate item that covers nose and mouth throughout the journey.
- No person or passenger will be allowed to use any form ofpublictransport or enter a building, place or premises if they do not wear a cloth face mask or a homemade item or another appropriate item that covers nose and mouth.
- All public transport operators must put measures in place to adhere to physical distancing to curb the spread of the virus.
- Intra-provincial, metropolitan areas and district public transport is permitted to operate without a requirement for a permit.
– Health-e News