SAMA warns that taxi commuters at COVID risk

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SA Medical Association president, Dr Angelique Coetzee, has warned that commuters spending more than 20 minutes in a fully loaded taxi, without proper ventilation, are at risk of being infected with COVID-19 or other contagious diseases, even if wearing a face mask.

In fact, if you spend more than 20 minutes in a taxi loaded to 100% capacity, you risk being infected with any contagious disease, Dr Angelique Coetzee, president of the SA Medical Association (Sama), is quoted in TimesLIVE as saying.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that taxis would be permitted to increase their capacity to 100% while undertaking local trips. Long-distance taxis, however, would be allowed to load only to 70% of capacity.

According to the report, after recent evidence indicating the airborne spread of the virus, Coetzee said the onus was 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 with COVID-19. Coetzee said the government should look at other transport measures.

While the taxi industry is happy that the government is allowing 100% passenger capacity on local trips, that came with responsibility in terms of compliance, said SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) national spokesperson Thabiso Molelekwa. Molelekwa said the council met stakeholders on Monday evening to discuss the way forward. He said all commuters were urged to sanitise and wear face masks before boarding taxis. Molelekwa said the industry would also introduce “window stoppers” that will be fitted to all taxis. These would effectively provide a 5cm gap for ventilation, he is quoted in the report as saying.

 

 

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has denied that there has been no capitulation by the government under pressure from the taxi industry, reports The Times. “We had a thorough discussion with the department of transport to look at what the issues are and what the possibilities are,” said Mkhize.

Mkhize said when the matter was first raised, there had been a standoff between Mbalula and the taxi industry. He said the issues raised by the industry were tabled to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), which then tasked him and the health teams to meet Mbalula and evaluate the issues that were being put on the table.

“Having done so, we then called on the taxi associations. We went through with the discussion.” The Times reports that he said during discussions, the taxi bosses had been understanding in so far as the main issues were concerned.

“Actually, what really made the leaders in both (the SA National Taxi Council) and the (National Taxi Alliance) to understand the issue was when we took them through the presentation which was led by (COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee chairperson) Prof (Salim) Abdool Karim to show them where the problems were,” he said. “At the end, they were actually quite appreciative of the issues.”

 

Professor Francois Venter, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee, said the decision could result in some members of the public not co-operating with the government in the fight against COVID-19. “The government has shot itself in the foot repeatedly with irrational advice and what happens then is that it’s very easy for society to opt out and to say, ‘this is nonsense, I’m not going to participate’. I’m quite disappointed, I must say,” he said in a report in The Witness.

Clinical expert Dr Francesca Conradie said the expectation had been for the government to announce a reduction of taxi loads to 50% capacity. “Most people use taxis to travel to work and by increasing the load to 100% the government is putting the lives of people who need to put food on the table at risk,” she said.

Meanwhile Cosatu – which has criticised the decision as an act of cowardice on the part of the government – has threatened mass action if the decision is not reversed.

 

A recent amendment to the COVID-19 disaster management regulations allowing taxis and buses to carry 100% of their passenger capacity over distances of 200km or less may have been informed by input during last week’s meeting of the National Assembly’s Transport Committee.

According to a media statement on its proceedings, members considered the issues raised during taxi industry demonstrations “both understandable and resolvable”. While the statement tends to suggest that, at the time, among other things taxi operators were aggrieved by the level of support offered to their industry by a government availing “billions of rands” in State of Disaster relief to other sectors, a Parliamentary Monitoring Group sound recording provides valuable insight into their concerns. This is especially noting a commitment by committee chair Mosebenzi Zwane to “engage” Transport Department officials on the information received, notes Pam Saxby for Legalbrief Policy Watch.

Convened expressly to hear the perspectives of National Taxi Association representatives on what at the time was understood to be an “impasse” between taxi operators and Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, the meeting heard a detailed account of the impact of lockdown restrictions on the broader industry. Apparently, “only about 10% of taxis operated” during lockdown level five – creating a situation in which many operators were unable to meet their vehicle financing repayment commitments and therefore fell deeply into arrears. In that context, State of Disaster industry losses already far exceed the relief package on offer at the time.

Given prevailing budgetary constraints, allowing taxis to operate at full passenger loading capacity was the only possible solution. As already reported, the new regulations make it an offence for public transport operators to carry anyone without a face mask or similar nose-and-mouth covering.

 

Full report in The Times

 

Full report in The Times

 

Full report in The Witness

 

Read report on Legalbrief Policy Watch

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