Fill up: Commuters at Baragwanath taxi rank where taxis are back to full capacity in, Soweto. Picture: Sowetan/Antonio Muchave
Fill up: Commuters at Baragwanath taxi rank where taxis are back to full capacity in, Soweto. Picture: Sowetan/Antonio Muchave

The government’s decision to cave into taxi operators’ demands to carry full loads will substantially increase the risk of transmission of Covid-19, SA’s key agency for training and accrediting public health specialists said on Wednesday.

The College of Public Health Medicine (CPHM) called on the government to review the plans outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address on Sunday night, which permit taxis to carry a full load of passengers for short trips. Regulations detailing the plans have yet to be published, but the president said taxis would only have to reduce their passenger loads to 70% on long commutes.

At the time he said drivers, conductors and passengers would have to wear masks, and that windows would have to be kept open to ensure proper ventilation, but did not provide specifics.

The unregulated taxi industry transports an estimated 16.5-million passengers a day. Many operators have openly flouted the regulations previously introduced under lockdown level 3, which banned interprovincial travel and required vehicles to only carry 70% of their capacity.

The CPHM’s guidance on reducing Covid-19 transmission in public transport, published in March, says vehicles should operate at no more than 50% of their carrying capacity and that windows on both sides of the vehicle should be open.

“The use of masks will help reduce transmission, but it is not enough; you have to have physical distancing and ventilation,” said CPHM president Leslie London.

Traffic congestion meant most commuters spent long periods of time on public transport even when travelling short distances, increasing the risk of transmission, he said.

The World Health Organisation considers anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes within 1m of a person infected with Covid-19 to be at risk.

 “There is a lot of heat about schools, but the kids are going to get infected in taxis, not in schools,” said London.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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