Taxis and Covid-19: ‘The ideal doesn’t exist’

In an ideal situation, taxi commuters would be able to keep a metre apart from one another. But “the ideal doesn’t exist”, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

At a briefing by the National Coronavirus Command Council on Monday, Mkhize explained the new set of regulations that the taxi industry must follow as the country accelerates towards its Covid-19 peak.

Because taxis cannot operate under the ideal conditions, “we begin to see the need now to put in mitigating steps to try and assist that situation”, the minister said.

Taxis will be allowed to operate at full capacity for short trips, whereas long-distance taxis will operate at 70% capacity. According to the new regulations, drivers may not allow any member of the public not wearing a cloth face mask to board a taxi. Windows in taxis are also expected to be open to encourage ventilation.

Taxi drivers transport 15.6-million passengers a day. The industry accounts for 68% of South Africa’s public transport system.


Therefore, Mkhize said, it is an important industry to monitor closely. “What had to be looked at was what is necessary to sustain the movement of taxis under all the factors that have been considered by the department of transport.”

He explained that some studies show that sitting in confined spaces for more than 20 minutes heightens the risk of contracting Covid-19. Studies also show that ventilation can reduce the spread of the infection, Mkhize added.

A victory for taxi owners 

On Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the tightening of restrictions as South Africa enters the next phase of its lockdown. Restrictions included the immediate re-banning of alcohol sales and a national curfew between 9pm and 4am.

When Ramaphosa made the announcement, the national confirmed coronavirus caseload was at more than 276 000 cases, with 4 079 deaths. There are about 12 000 new infections in the country every day, the president noted. This translates to about 500 new cases every hour. 

According to Ramaphosa, some models project between 40 000 and 50 000 deaths before the end of this year.

But the new regulations signify a victory for taxi owners, who have complained that their profits have dwindled significantly under the previous rules, which limited the number of passengers, even on short trips.

Last month, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula unveiled his department’s plan to soften the blow dealt to the taxi industry by the Covid-19 pandemic, announcing that the industry would receive a relief package of R1.135-billion.

But taxi associations were unhappy with the proposed package and threatened to flout the 70% capacity rules.

Food security and behavioural change 

On Monday, Mkhize assured the public that the decision to change the regulations were made with “a lot of consultation”.

He said that although the original lockdown helped the government to buy time to prepare for the peak, it was not sustainable. 

“It would be important for us to consider the issues of food security and income security and ensure that people are able to get their regular income,” Mkhize said. “Because, though there was some work done to provide social grants and various other components for our people, it’s not possible that everyone can live through those grants. And those grants cannot be sustainable forever.”

Echoing Ramaphosa’s sentiments the night before, Mkhize said the “biggest weapon” the country has to fight the virus is behavioural change.

“We are trusting the behaviour of our own people to get us to defeat this infection. It is still possible that you can reduce the numbers of people that are getting infected. But you can never stop the infection.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Medical aids blame external costs as fees increase beyond inflation

Medical aid is becoming more of a luxury for many South Africans, and it’s not about to get any better

Mahikeng compounds its mess

The ailing town that wasted R2-billion appoints a municipal manager rated ‘basic’, the lowest level

More top stories

Parliament owes South Africa an apology on state capture —...

The speaker told the Zondo commission she doesn’t know why the legislature woke up to state capture so late, but believes this won’t happen again

Cape Town fire ‘largely contained’, evacuation orders remain in place

Authorities confirmed the fire had been largely contained by early Monday afternoon, although reports suggest the fire had jumped the road near Tafelberg Drive

Zondo says break-in will not intimidate commission

The deputy chief justice said it was not clear if the burglary and a recent shooting were more than criminality, but vowed no one would deter the inquiry

European heavyweights face criticism over ‘cynical’ Super League

The 12 founding clubs of the breakaway competition have faced backlash from the football community
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…