It takes only 20 minutes to risk infection in a fully loaded taxi - even with a face mask

The government has given the taxi industry the green light to increase its loading capacity up to 100%.
The government has given the taxi industry the green light to increase its loading capacity up to 100%.

An expert 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 even if they wear 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), told TimesLIVE on Tuesday.

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.

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.

“If I am a commuter in a taxi for less than 20 minutes with all the windows open, I am less likely to get infected.

“But, if I am sitting like a sardine in a fully loaded taxi for more than 20 minutes, I am more likely to get infected.

“This virus is not there to negotiate, this virus is saying stay within close proximity for more than 20 minutes of me, and I will show you.”

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 said.

He said at a previous meeting with the department of transport that the government had indicated that it would look at ways of funding these window stoppers. But this had not been confirmed, he added.

“We have agreed collectively that these are issues that we will continue to deal with. We have also decided that we need to have a campaign that will be ongoing on the ground and on the road to monitor the compliance of drivers.

“Every taxi on the road with commuters - all must wear masks. If that is not the case, that taxi’s trip will be interrupted so that we can take measures against the driver and send a strong message that compliance is necessary.”

He said an urgent meeting will be arranged with the department of transport.

Transport department spokesperson Ayanda Allie Paine could not immediately be reached but minister Fikile Mbalula posted a tweet indicating that the department was working with the taxi industry.

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