COVID-19 and public transport
- As the country emerges from the lockdown, a proper ramping up of the transport system is needed.
Public transport guidelines
- The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has released guidelines to tackle several social distancing and sanitisation concerns, and to address the possibility of viral transmission through tokens, push buttons on lifts, and handrails at the station elevators.
- Other metro rail systems are also expected to follow similar guidelines.
Views that public transport does not transmit infection:
- One study says that SARS-CoV-2 does not seem to get transmitted much outdoors and there is clearly high risk in indoor areas under AC with focused air flow.
- Thus we can conclude that a non-AC bus with open windows offers a much less risky outdoor-like environment.
- However, it would be wrong to conclude that an AC metro rail coach is risky because contact-time is also very important in viral transmission in indoor spaces.
- A majority of metro rail trips in Indian cities are no more than 20 minutes long, and there is research indicating that this may not be long enough for significant viral densities and inhalation of sufficient viral particles, even without social distancing.
- It is unlikely for any significant level of public transport infections to happen via inhalation or even crowding and clothed-body contact, though we cannot say it with certainty.
How does infection occur?
- Hand contact with common surfaces must be considered as a source of infection spread, as it is well-known to cause significant COVID-19 spread.
Limitations of the guidelines:
- The guidelines being developed in India address some of the related issues. However, they leave out certain key elements that should be taken very seriously –
- the handgrip rings and handrails from the ceilings,
- the stanchion poles,
- any grab rails on the seatbacks.
- If an infected asymptomatic person deposits viral particles on such surfaces, and another person grabs the same spot even briefly, the viral particles could be picked up by their hand. Every successive individual who hangs on to the handgrip where one infected person deposited the virus can pick up the virus at a high density from the same spot.
Suggestions for more safety
- To employ staff to wipe the hand grips at frequent intervals, constantly moving from end to end in the trains and buses.
- To give wet sanitising wipes to every traveler entering a metro rail coach with a suggestion to have it in their palms before touching or gripping anything. Wipe disposal bins will be needed in the coaches.
- Paid staff or volunteers dispensing hand sanitisers on platforms can be an option to handle egressing passengers as it is important to prevent them from transferring what is on their hands to their faces after egress.
- Offering contactless wash basins with soap dispensers at the platform level could be effective.
- Signs on hand hygiene vis-a-vis touching surfaces are needed.
- To create external airflow to dissipate viral particles.
- Metro rail AC systems could be changed to High Efficiency Particulate Air filters with frequent circulation of fresh air.
- Actions are needed from both authorities and the public to keep our public transport systems safe. If no such actions are taken and a serious level of viral transmission is later traced to public transit, the result will be a mode shift to private vehicles.
- As pollution and accidents kill more people in India than COVID-19 does now, a mode shift away from public transport will have long-term consequences.
- Several safety measures could prevent mass transmission of the virus and a shift to private modes of transport which means measures are needed to gain the public’s confidence in mass transport modes, to avoid a significant modal shift to road traffic.
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