The local taxi industry is relieved after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that the number of passengers in a taxi can be increased. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)
The local taxi industry is relieved after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that the number of passengers in a taxi can be increased. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Minister's decision to increase passengers in taxis harmful, says medical association

By Brenda Masilela Time of article published Apr 2, 2020

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Pretoria - The decision to allow minibuses and taxis to transport occupants at 70 percent capacity will not contain the spread of Covid-19 said the South African Medical Association (SAMA) on Wednesday.

This comes transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Tuesday amended regulations on how many passengers taxis can carry.

Now, 15-seater taxis are only allowed to ferry 10 people at a time and minibuses with a 22-seater capacity are limited to a maximum of 15 passengers.

In a statement, Sama said this decision was not based on scientific principle.

“Apart from the decision on capacity, the minister also noted that all passengers must wear either surgical masks or N95 respirators. Not only are these masks in short supply but will do very little to protect drivers and occupants from exposure. 

"We are deeply concerned about this development, which we view as a misunderstanding of the challenges of the transmission of Covid-19,” said Angelique Coetzee, Sama chairperson.

Sama says the reduction from 100% to 70% is purely a numbers game and percentages are arbitrary without application of good practice to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

“Wearing masks as a normal healthy member of the community is not called for in this instance, and N95 masks will do little in terms of any additional protection if they are not worn properly. To be effective, an N95 mask must be airtight, and this requires a special fit-test to establish. 

"But, more importantly, these masks are in short supply and are desperately needed for protection of medical personnel who are caring for COVID-19 patients in ICU and other hospital settings,” Coetzee said in a statement.

Coetzee said it is the moving of large numbers of people in close proximity to each other that poses the real problem. "The virus is droplet spread, and highly infectious through close contact with infectious people and through touching of contaminated surfaces.

"It is a known fact that the Covid-19 spread is a 1-2m range from any infected person.

“Masks won’t address this and even keeping people further apart than usual in an enclosed taxi won’t do much to stop its spread. Unfortunately public transport needs to be as restrictive as possible, any other measure but appropriate physical distancing simply won’t be enough at this stage,” Coetzee said.

Sama says the department of health must be more involved in decision-making, not only about public travel, but other measures being considered by the government.

“The department of health and its executive must play a central role in assisting other departments [to] make decisions which have far reaching implications for thousands of people.

"Their input on this matter, for instance, would have been invaluable in preventing the transport of people in enclosed spaces, and could, ultimately, save many lives,” Coetzee said.

African News Agency (ANA)

* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL's  special #Coronavirus page.

** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit  sacoronavirus.co.za 

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