As messages to practise social distancing to avoid Covid-19 infection grow louder, public transport commuters are becoming increasingly anxious.
On Sunday March 15, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the Covid-19 pandemic a national disaster, and as of Monday March 23, South Africa had 402 confirmed cases.
In his televised address to the nation, President Ramaphosa said an “extraordinary response” was needed to limit the impact of the virus on South African society and the country’s economy, and that included discouraging all non-essential domestic travel, particularly by air, rail, taxis and bus. While some employees can work from home, Caryn Jacobs, of Lansdowne, is not one of them. She takes the train to work and describes the panic she sees on people’s faces every time a fellow passenger coughs or sneezes in the packed coaches.
“People are all panicking and stressed, and so am I. If I want to sneeze, I am too scared of what people might say and I am not sick. The trains are so full; there are more than 100 people on the trains so how do we avoid contracting a germ? What hygiene measures are they putting into place on the rail service?”
On Tuesday March 17, Golden Arrow Bus Services’ general manager, Derick Meyer, said the company would be reducing bus loads where possible but did not say when. Buses would be wiped down with disinfectant daily wherever possible, he added.
Mizaam Taliep relies on taxis to get to and from work. He says fewer people are using them now but that means they take longer to fill up, so he gets home later than usual.
“No one wants to sit close to each other, but what can we do? It’s a taxi after all. I feel unsafe and unsecured because who knows which germs are travelling around? People are too afraid to cough or sneeze then everyone shouts and wants to get out. The president said try to avoid congested spaces, but we have no choice. Did he consider that?” Mr Taliep said.
On Tuesday March 17, Bonteheuwel ward councillor Angus McKenzie gave taxi drivers hand-sanitiser, showed them how to use it, and urged them to let their passengers use it when they boarded the taxi.
‘’Taxi guards are key to assisting us in stemming the growth of coronavirus due to the handling of money and being in constant contact with commuters. We also insisted that windows are constantly kept open and taxis are kept clean and sanitised at all times.”
Bonteheuwel Taxi Association treasurer Charmaine Bailey said taxi drivers were wiping down the insides of their vehicles and using hand sanitisers.
“Our drivers are a bit apprehensive about the situation, but they are well informed and are practising the correct hygiene methods,” she said.
Makhosini Mgitywa, spokesperson for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, said: “PRASA is consulting with the Department of Transport, the Rail Safety Regulator, commuter forums and labour unions with a view to taking appropriate action with regard to the safety of our customers and employees. Once a decision has been made in this regard, it will be communicated to the public.”
On Thursday March 19, Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel banned the price hike of store goods such as hand sanitisers, disinfectants, toilet paper, facial and surgical masks, baby nappies and formula, long-life milk, cooking oil, rice, pasta, maize meal, frozen vegetables, meat and chicken. He said price increases could not exceed the increase in their manufacture cost and profits should not be higher than the period just before the Covid-19 outbreak. Stores should also ration basic necessities to ensure fairness, he said.