One of the biggest challenges for the government and the common public during the lockdown was the restrictions imposed on public transportation. Hundreds of millions of people across the world depend on public transportation, including buses, for a daily commute. Bangalore alone recorded a daily BMTC bus ridership of fifty-one lakhs from 2018-2019.
Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered substantial financial losses to the public transportation sector in the country. However, now that things are slowly coming back to normal, the restrictions are being relaxed in certain states. As metro services are still on a halt, the bus sector has come to the rescue of most of the workers in the urban cities. But the question still remains, how safe is public transportation in vast countries like India and China?
Let’s have a look at a particular incident to answer the question. A study was conducted in eastern China on individuals traveling in a bus to understand the airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2 in poorly-ventilated buses. The study was performed on 128 individuals who took a bus trip to attend a Buddhist event in the city of Ningbo in eastern China. Some of the individuals rode one of the two buses, let’s call it bus 2, that had poor air-ventilation and a COVID-19 positive patient. These individuals showed an increased risk of contracting the virus, even with social distancing, as compared to the ones who boarded the other bus.
The subject of the study included 15 men and 113 women with an average age of 58.6 years. After the trip, none of the 60 people boarding bus 1 contracted the virus. Out of the other 68 individuals who boarded bus 2, twenty three people were eventually diagnosed with COVID-19. Clearly, individuals on bus 2 had a greater risk of getting infected (34.3% chance) in comparison to those who boarded bus 1. These people were also 11.4 times more likely to contract the COVID-19 virus as compared to the rest of the people who attended the worship event in Eastern China.
Notably, the passengers in bus 2 maintained proper social distancing norms. In fact, the SARS-CoV-2 virus infected people beyond the 6 feet radius (the social distancing standard as set by experts) from the infected person. Analysts believe that the airborne spread of the pathogen seems to be the major reason behind the higher infection risk rate in bus 2. The researchers stated:
Back to our question, even in the presence of increased risks, the use of public transportation is inevitable for thousands and thousands of people. Perhaps, the government can levy updated safety protocols, adhering to the latest research reports that investigate the spread of the virus more comprehensively. In a country like India, where a majority of the population depends on buses, among other public transportation, it has become the need of the hour for the government to work out a module to meet the needs of the citizens while instilling confidence in them.
In Gurgaon, people are increasingly opting for the bus services provided by the Gurugraman Metropolitan City Bus Limited (GMCBL). The passengers are gaining confidence thanks to the strict safety protocols formulated for safe travels. GMCBL boasts that more than 4,00,000 people have already used the bus services without contracting COVID-19.
Perhaps, a nationwide implementation of strict safety measures and the subsequent adherence to these protocols are the key to restore things to normalcy, at least to some extent, for revenue purposes and for the public’s benefit amidst this devastating pandemic. This will also enforce systematic changes pertaining to safety, reliability, affordability, and cleanliness, which might prove to be beneficial to the public in the post-COVID life.