Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ERIC MALEMA
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ERIC MALEMA

Commuters spending more than 20 minutes in a fully loaded taxi, without proper ventilation, are at risk of being infected with Covid-19 even if they wear a mask, Dr Angelique Coetzee, president of the SA Medical Association (Sama), said on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that taxis would be permitted to increase their capacity to 100% during local trips. Long-distance taxis, however, would be allowed to load only up to 70% of the taxi’s capacity.

After recent evidence indicating the spread of the virus through respiratory droplets, Coetzee said the onus is on the taxi industry to open all windows while transporting commuters.

Coetzee said “all literature” showed that contact time should not be more than 20 minutes in proximity to others to avoid being infected.

“If I am a commuter in a taxi for less than 20 minutes with all the windows open, I am less likely to get infected. But, if I am sitting like a sardine in a fully loaded taxi for more than 20 minutes, I am more likely to get infected.”

Coetzee said the government should look at other transport options.

While the taxi industry is happy that the government is allowing 100% passenger capacity on local trips, it comes with responsibility in terms of compliance, said SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) national spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa.

He said the council met stakeholders on Monday evening to discuss the way forward.

All commuters are urged to sanitise and wear masks before boarding taxis. Molelekwa said the industry will also fit “window stoppers” to all taxis. These would effectively provide a 5cm gap for ventilation.

He said at a previous meeting with the department of transport that the government had indicated it would look at ways of funding these window stoppers, but this had not been confirmed.

“We have agreed collectively that these are issues we will continue to deal with. We have also decided that we need to have an ongoing campaign to monitor the compliance of drivers.

“Every taxi on the road with commuters — all must wear masks. If that is not the case, that taxi’s trip will be interrupted so that we can take measures against the driver and send a strong message that compliance is necessary.”

He said an urgent meeting will be arranged with the department of transport. Department spokesperson Ayanda-Allie Paine could not immediately be reached.