Home LOCAL NEWS Mitigating the spread of Covid-19 on board trains

Mitigating the spread of Covid-19 on board trains

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First of 2 parts
DURING this pandemic, when the risk of viral transmission is high, everyone needs to be vigilant to stop the spread of Covid-19. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and preventive measures, taken collectively, is a choice golden to anybody who does not want to catch the dreaded virus especially during the lowering of quarantine restrictions this coming 2021.

In LRT 2, passenger safety is of paramount concern. Thus, making a train ride safe is a must for planners and implementers. Hence, right at the onset of the pandemic, administrator Reynaldo Berroya immediately created a Covid-19 task group to study the Light Rail Transit Authority’s way forward in the light of the pandemic.

Similarly, the Department of Transportation immediately responded to the crisis and put in place a set of protocols for adoption by all rail operators. Among the measures implemented are physical distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks and face shields, mandatory temperature check, foot bath, placement of hand sanitizers at station entrances and booths, frequent disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, adjustment of train ventilation system to suitable conditions, and implementation of “No talking policy” while inside trains.

Among these measures, physical distancing has been recommended as a highly effective means of preventing the transmission of the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a distance of at least 1 meter from the next person while other health organizations even suggest up to 2 meters to further reduce the risk.

In a study conducted by the University of Southampton in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, passengers on board a high-speed train in China were examined to determine the rate of transmission of catching Covid-19. The study found out that passengers sitting within three rows and five columns of an infected person have between zero and 10 percent probability of catching the disease. This is equivalent to a transmission rate of 0.32 percent. On the other hand, passengers seated directly adjacent to an infected patient got the highest transmission rate of 3.5 percent while those sitting on the same row as the infected person got a 1.5-percent chance of contracting the virus. |

During a.m. and p.m. peak periods, LRT 2 trains are running at almost full capacity. If physical distancing is not implemented, our train system will become a hot spot for transmission of Covid-19. Hence, it is of utmost importance to reduce passenger capacity and strictly enforce physical distancing among passengers. Until the peak of the Philippines’ positivity rate at 9.8 percent, a one-meter apart rule was enforced reducing train capacity to about 10 to 15 percent of its maximum allowable load. To enforce this, visual cues were installed inside station premises and inside the trains while train marshals were deployed to remind violators.

However, we deemed that physical distancing alone cannot fully mitigate the spread of the virus. For several months, WHO recommended using face masks only by persons with respiratory symptoms and by healthcare workers. Later, WHO revised its guidelines suggesting the use of non-medical masks in public places. In an article entitled “Covid-19 and public transportation: Current assessment, prospects and research needs” by Alejandro Terrachini (Journal of Public Transportation, vol. 22, no. 1, 2020), it was pointed out that face mask use in public transportation can be an effective way of stopping Covid-19.

Further, in an article titled “Why we should all be wearing face masks,” Richard Gray said one of the reasons why widespread face mask wearing is so important with Covid-19 is because of the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers who can spread the virus to others.

About 6 percent to18 percent of those infected can carry the virus without developing symptoms, and with an incubation period of five to 14 days before the onset of symptoms, even those who are asymptomatic can spread the virus before they fall ill.

Thus, use of face masks are recommended as a means of control for persons that are symptomatic and asymptomatic. In LRT 2 and across the rail sector, the use of face masks for train employees and passengers are strictly enforced while inside trains, at the platforms and inside the LRT 2 station premises.

However, physical distancing and face mask alone cannot fully mitigate the virus. In the article titled “Why a face shield alone may not protect you from coronavirus” by Gray (Aug. 7, 2020), he said that there is growing evidence that airborne aerosols carrying the coronavirus may play a major role in spreading Covid-19.” Initially, WHO did not consider Covid-19 to be airborne but scientists believe it is.

To be continued

Paul Chua, PhD is the deputy administrator for operations and engineering at the Light Rail Transit Authority. He was a scholar in transport planning at the Galilee International Management Institute in Israel and studied at the Gran Sasso Science Institute in Italy. He finished an executive education program on “Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies” at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The LRTA Covid-19 task group is led by Annabelle Ganancial and composed of Wilfredo Bongcaron, Ricardo Buhay, Ferdinand Marcos, Elizabeth Gomez and Leomarie Obias.