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Stop the buses

BY now, the transport sector, especially the public transportation operators, should have been Government’s key partner in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as part of the multi-sectoral approach. Partnership with Government means transporters being in the fore-front in complying with the COVID-19 guidelines. Buses are very important for passenger transportation but they are also a very high-risk spreader of the coronavirus. In the process of performing this noble duty of ferrying passengers, public transport actors should ideally safeguard both the safety and health of their passengers. They should ensure that the passengers get to their destinations safely and now also in good health. They must, therefore, do the right thing in ensuring that the disease is not spread within the towns and cities as well as from one town to another. Unfortunately, many of them are not implementing this responsibility. Many passenger transporters, including taxi drivers, have neglected this role of joining the fight against COVID-19. Instead, they are now among the super spreaders of the pandemic because of their laxity. This is because they have not put in place adequate measures to help contain the spread of the pandemic. First and foremost, bus stations must be disinfected daily because of the high traffic of passengers from different locations. Bus stations are high risk points. Disinfect them otherwise the country could find itself having to ban this mode of movement to save lives. The effect of such a decision is too shuddering to even contemplate. Secondly, buses must be disinfected. We don’t see much of this happening. Masking up and hand sanitising may not be enough to stop the virus, which can be spread through items we carry and even the clothes and shoes we wear. The bus crews must also keep windows open for ventilation. This must be as mandatory as it is to wear masks and sanitise hands. Social distancing on buses, especially those on intra-city routes, is difficult and has serious financial consequences. It is, however, better to have less cash but be healthy and alive than to have lots of cash in life-threatening health. By ignoring these basic health guidelines, the public transport sector is now serving as a super spreader agent. Given the ineptitude of those that should be enforcing these health regulations in the sector, it is understandable that Government has had to directly step into the matter. The Ministry of Home Affairs has directed police to start impounding public passenger vehicles where people will be found without face masks on as part of the enforcement of Statutory instruments number 21and 22 of 2020 and the Public Health Act designed to avert the spread of the pandemic. Ministry of Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Masiye Banda says there is need to intensify routine inspections on roads to enhance levels of adherence to COVID-19 guidelines because the transport system can be a super spreader of the pandemic if left unchecked. Law enforcement officers at roadblocks will now ensure that all passengers are masked up as part of the enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations. Local authorities, especially at bus stations should also enforce the disinfecting of buses with every trip. Zambia must not continue to take chances and hope that the disease will end without any effort. Bus operators will do well to cooperate with health authorities and law enforcement officers – the police. More importantly, the public must be their own keepers. They must take to task anyone who is a danger to their health and lives.