Making public transport safe next hurdle in easing lockdowns
The Hague: In cities around the world, public transport systems are the key to getting workers back on the job and restarting devastated economies, yet everything from trains to buses to ferries to bicycles will have to be re-imagined for the coronavirus era.
In Europe in particular, public transport is shaping up as a new front line in the battle to tame the pandemic that has already killed over 120,000 of its citizens.
In hard-hit Italy, Spain, France and Britain, standing cheek-to-jowl with fellow commuters in packed trains or trams was as much a part of the morning routine in pre-coronavirus times as a steaming shot of espresso or a crispy croissant.
That’s going to have to change as authorities try to balance restarting devastated economies while still clinging to hard-won gains in controling the spread of the virus.
Solutions include putting red stickers on the floor to tell bus travelers in Milan how far apart to stand. The Dutch are putting on longer, roomier trains and many cities including Berlin are opening up more lanes to cyclists. In Britain, bus passengers are entering through the middle or rear doors to reduce the virus risks for drivers.
Announcing a gradual easing of France’s strict lockdown, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe called public transport a “key measure for the economic recovery” yet acknowledged concerns among passengers.
“I understand the apprehension of a good number of our compatriots before taking a metro, a train, a bus, a tram, which are sometimes very densely packed,” he said.
When and how to ease restrictions, keep people safe and prevent a second wave of infections is a matter of intense debate around the world.
“There will never be a perfect amount of protection,” said Josh Santarpia, a microbiology expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who is studying the coronavirus. “It’s a personal risk assessment. Everybody has to decide, person by person, what risk they’re willing to tolerate.”
As restrictions loosen, health authorities will be watching closely for any sign of a resurgence of the virus. Germany has reported an slight uptick in the infection rate since some small businesses were allowed to reopen just over a week ago, but authorities said it was too soon to say whether the loosening was to blame. (AP)