The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of our lives, including the use of public transport, the backbone of the urban population. In India, public transport comprises of urban/intercity bus systems, metro rail systems, regional/suburban rail systems, auto-rickshaws, and app-based ride-hailing cab services. Despite the expansion of cab services in urban India, urban/intercity buses and metro rails remain the preferred choice of transport for middle-class commuters.
However, using public transport for commute comes with its share of drawbacks, especially in the time of COVID-19 when social distancing is a must, to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. This article will shed light on how to take steps to be safe when using public transport to commute. Before that, let us understand the risks associated with using public transport during COVID-19.
Risks associated with using public transport during COVID-19
- Crowding in public transport: Coronavirus spreads directly through oral and nasal droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. When these droplets land on the faces of people nearby or are inhaled into the lungs, it causes infection. In public transport like buses, local trains, flights, and trams, people are in close contact with one another (within 6 feet) thereby increasing the risk of COVID-19 infection.
- Public transport staff: Public transport staff like drivers, ticket collectors, cabin crews and other front-line staff are exposed to a large number of commuters every day. Hence, they could be at higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 infection.
Tips to protect yourself when using public transport
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following measures for protection against the Coronavirus while using public transport:
- Follow hand hygiene: Before leaving home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Else, you can apply hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Follow the same hygiene after reaching your destination. Do not touch your mouth, eyes, or nose with unwashed hands.
- Avoid touching surfaces during transit: Avoid touching frequently touched surfaces like touchscreens, fingerprint scanners, ticket machine, restroom surfaces, turnstiles, handrails, elevator buttons, window panes, benches, kiosks, etc. Wash your hands immediately for 20 seconds with soap and water or apply hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol if you happen to touch these surfaces. Use cashless mode of payment for buying tickets and no-touch trash and doors wherever possible. If you must use cash or card, put in the tray instead of touching the hands of the person at the ticketing counter.
- Follow respiratory etiquette: Try to cover your sneezes or cough with paper tissue or use the inside of your elbow. After using the paper tissue discard it in the trash and close it. Wash your hands immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or else use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Wear face masks: Face masks should be worn whenever you leave home, especially while using public transport.
- Follow social distancing: During the transit try to maintain at least 6 feet (2 meters) distance from the co-passengers who are not in your household. While waiting for the bus or metro in the queue at the metro station or bus stand maintain at least 6 feet (2 meters) distance from the people. Try to enter and exit buses through the rear-entry door. Consider choosing a single seat and skip a row of seats between you and other riders if possible.
- Avoid eating or drinking at the metro station or bus stand: Avoid purchasing any food or water bottles from hawkers during the commute. Try to bring your water bottle and homemade tiffin to avoid unnecessary buying from street vendors.
- High-risk category people should stay at home: Elderly people, people with pre-existing conditions (heart diseases, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma, respiratory allergies, etc.), and pregnant mothers fall under the high-risk category. People in this category are advised to avoid using public transit and commute only when absolutely necessary.
- Avoid pooled rides: Avoid taking pooled rides, a vehicle with a large passenger capacity or a vehicle with multiple passengers from various households. It is advisable to use a personal vehicle, private cab, or auto for the purpose of commute.
Government guidelines for two and three-wheeler passengers during COVID-19
According to the released guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the number of people travelling in private taxis and cab services has been limited to one driver and two passengers. Wearing face masks is mandatory and commuters not wearing it are liable for punishment with a fine. In rickshaws and auto-rickshaws, one driver/puller and two passengers are allowed while for two-wheelers, only one rider or husband-wife with one minor child is allowed. These guidelines ensure that passengers follow social distancing protocols which will consequently prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
Government guidelines for Indian railway and domestic flight passengers during COVID-19
The Indian Government has appealed to pregnant women, people with comorbid conditions, people aged above 65 years, and children below 10 years of age to avoid the use of rail and flight services.
For people who have been deemed fit to travel, hand sanitizers will be provided at the entry and exit points of the coach/plane. Only people with no symptoms of COVID-19 like fever, cough, breathlessness, etc. will be allowed to travel after the screening at departure. Aarogya Setu application should be installed on each passenger’s smartphone. Passengers should maintain social distancing of at least 2 meters distance from each other during the transit. Wearing face masks is mandatory at all times during transit.
Though the lockdown has been lifted and public transport services have been resumed, the risk of getting infected by the Coronavirus still remains. Hence, we should take all the necessary precautions, including wearing masks and practising social distancing, to protect ourselves when travelling.
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