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Stop and go for transport sector during lockdown

Written by: Silusapho Nyanda

While South Africans have been ordered to stay at home during the lockdown, sections of the transport sector will help keep the wheels of the COVID-19 response turning.

The 21-day nationwide lockdown means that the movement of South Africans has been heavily restricted.

Speaking at the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster media briefing, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula unpacked the lockdown implications for the transport sector.

He said minibus, e-hailing taxis, metred taxis and buses will only operate during specified hours for the transportation of essential services personnel – like nurses – and members of the public who need to travel to meet essential needs. 

This means if you need to buy food or cleaning products for your household; go to the chemist, clinic or doctor; the vet; or go to the post office for your social grant – or make other essential trips – you may catch a taxi or bus. However, no trains will run during the lockdown.

However, these vehicles may only operate between 5am and 9am and then again from 4pm to 8pm.

The minister called on taxi operators to put measures in place to promote social distancing in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Social distancing is about keeping a safe distance from others so that you reduce the transmission of Covid-19.

Minister Mbalula said that in an effort to enforce social distancing protocols, there is a limit on the number of passengers that can be carried by public transport vehicles. 

  • A vehicle licensed to carry up to four people will only be permitted to load one person. 
  • A vehicle licensed to carry up to eight passengers will only be permitted to carry a maximum of three passengers.

The coronavirus is a respiratory virus, which means it’s transmitted through respiratory droplets, like when we sneeze or cough. These droplets land on surfaces and can live there for hours. Minister Mbalula therefore has also ordered that all buses and taxis must be sanitised after every trip. “All taxi ranks must also be sanitised at regular intervals.”

He explained that for sanitisers to be effective in killing the virus, they must have a minimum alcohol content of 60 percent.

The restrictions during the lockdown mean that all cross-border road passenger movement is prohibited. However, the prohibition does not apply to the cross-border movement of essential goods. This means that a truck driver bringing essential cargo may pass through a border post and continue on his journey.

Rail commuters have also been affected by the lockdown. All long-distance passenger rail services have been stopped. 

“The services of Shosholoza Meyl, Premier Classe and the Blue Train, operated by PRASA and Transnet respectively, have already been suspended. All commuter rail services will shut down for the duration of the lockdown. This includes all Metrorail and Gautrain services.”

During the lockdown period, vehicle testing centres and drivers’ licence testing centres will remain closed.

People who were booked to take their driver’s licence tests during the lockdown period will have their tests rescheduled for after the lockdown. 

Motorists whose licences expire during the lockdown should not panic, however, because their licences will be deemed as valid until the end of the lockdown period, according to Minister Mbalula.

The transport of essential goods, as gazetted by government, will not be restricted. This will ensure that shelves remain stocked during the lockdown and that essential items needed in the fight against COVID-19 remain available.   

Regulations will be enforced

The enforcement of the regulations will be carried out by a combination of law enforcement agencies. South African Police Service operations will include foot patrols, roadblocks and vehicle checkpoints. 

The police will be assisted by the Metro Police, traffic officials and the South African National Defence Force.

Roadblocks will be conducted in residential areas and on provincial and national roads. This will ensure that people don’t break the lockdown restrictions and that the movement of people and vehicles is kept to a minimum.

At roadblocks on major roads, motorists, especially essential services workers who cross provincial borders, will be subjected to screening by officials from the Department of Health.