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New lockdown rules let taxis carry more passengers — with masks

Minibus taxis will now be allowed to carry 10 or the maximum number of passengers provided they all wear masks during the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
Minibus taxis will now be allowed to carry 10 or the maximum number of passengers provided they all wear masks during the 21-day nationwide lockdown.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has amended regulations governing public transport during the lockdown to extend taxi operating hours and allow them to carry up to 100% of their passenger capacity — provided passengers wear masks.

The changes, related to regulations issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act of  2002, were published in the Government Gazette on Tuesday.

Taxi associations, upset at the financial implications of running half-empty vehicles, threatened a shutdown earlier in the week. Essential services workers and the elderly, needing transport to collect social grants, were left stranded in parts of the country when taxis refused to operate.

Mbalula is expected to give an update on the public transport lockdown regulations later on Wednesday.

The gazetted amendments state that:

  • Public transport will be permitted to ferry essential-services workers from 5am to 10am and from 4pm to 8pm. Minibuses and midibuses will get an hour's grace to get to pickup and drop-off points before the official operating hours.
  • During the lockdown period minibuses will be allowed to carry 70% of their maximum licensed passenger seating capacity — if passengers have no face masks. Taxis were previously restricted to carrying 50% of capacity.
  • These vehicles can operate at 100% capacity “on condition that all passengers are wearing masks”. The regulations stipulate these be either surgical masks or N95 respiratory masks.
  • Vehicles licensed to carry up to four passengers can operate at 50% of capacity.

Broken down, the regulations mean a minibus allowed to carry 10 passengers will be able to carry a maximum of seven passengers. A minibus licensed to carry 15 passengers can carry 10 passengers. A midibus permitted to carry a maximum of 22 passengers can carry a maximum of 15 passengers.  

The regulation on wearing masks appears, at first glance, to contradict advice shared by health authorities.

The Gauteng and Western Cape health departments have issued appeals to the public not to wear gloves and masks in the past few days — saying it could even place them at greater risk of infection if not used properly.

“Scientific evidence proves that by wearing a mask, if it is not needed, you may put yourself at higher risk because you fiddle with the mask and then transfer germs from your hands to your face,” the Western Cape health department said in a statement on Sunday.

“Wearing a mask or gloves when going to the supermarket or pharmacy to buy essentials, is ineffective, unnecessary and will not protect you from the coronavirus. In fact, it can spread infection faster.”

Santaco spokesperson Theo Malele said the association welcomed the new regulations.

“We also welcome the new operating hours that will allow the taxi industry sufficient time to offer services, while adhering to all regulations as promulgated.”

Asked what measures were in place to provide passengers with masks, Malele said government had committed to provide these while it continued to seek advice from health practitioners.

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