HEALTH guidelines for transport operation amidst the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak appear to be more honoured in breaches than observance. While three health rules — ensuring mask wearing, disinfecting vehicles between trips and vehicles needing to run to half the passenger capacity — were made mandatory when city bus services were allowed to run on March 31, operators were also allowed to charge a 60 per cent increase on regular fares. The reality, however, is completely different as rampant violations of health guidelines continue unabated. The photograph that New Age published on Thursday also shows a bus running to full passenger capacity and even carrying standing passengers while a number of passengers are either not wearing a mask or wearing one improperly. It is unacceptable that almost all transport operators are reportedly flouting the directive to run to half the passenger capacity yet charging an increased fare. Allegations are also rife that many operators ignore the rule to sanitise the vehicles between trips. All this points to failures on part of the government, enforcement agencies and transport operators. It is even more worrying that such blatant disregard for health guidelines may end up contributing largely to the spread of Covid-19, burdening the already struggling healthcare system.
Earlier on June 21, 2020, at the end of a 66-day general holiday imposed as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19, bus services were allowed to run to half the passenger capacity with a 60 per cent fare increase. But the violation of health directives made the headlines that time as well as buses ran crowded most of the time, with many charging passengers higher than the set fare. The present scenario suggests that the situation has not changed in terms of either strictly enforcing or adhering to health protocols. It was expected that the government and the enforcement agencies concerned would learn from past mistakes and would have a better preparation, but it is apparent that they failed to do so. Considering the recent spike in the rate of both infection and death, it is essential for the government to ensure the strict enforcement of all health guidelines for transport operation. The government should also attend to the long-standing problem of transport shortage, said to be one of the major reasons behind the lax adherence to health guidelines, at the same time. With transport owners unwilling to put more vehicles in service, representatives of passengers and transport operators allege that it is difficult to maintain health rules with a limited number of buses plying the roads against the huge demand.
Some areas of the country have again been put on ‘special lockdown’, which suggests, as health experts also believe, that the Covid situation may deteriorate any time. The government and other authorities concerned must keep this in mind and take steps to ensure that all transport sector health guidelines are strictly enforced to check the infection. The government must also sit with all the stakeholders involved and come up with a comprehensive plan to effectively manage transport operation amidst the outbreak.
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