Georgia Clark at the Daily Telegraph writes: Sydney trains, buses: Transport use spikes after lockdown amid social distancing fears. She says I said :
Another transport expert, Professor David Levinson from the University of Sydney, said the only way to maintain social distancing if demand grows is for the virus to be eradicated – and capacity limits removed.
“If there is no more COVID-19 in NSW, we should not be constrained by social distancing. People concerned can of course wear masks and reduce talking on buses and trains,” he said.
I of course said nothing like the characterisation in the first paragraph. The second is a correct quote. My point, which I thought was clear below, is that if the virus is eradicated, so is the need for social distancing. I.e. there is no need to “maintain” social distancing if there is no virus. The reporter seems quite confused on the issue. She is not alone.
People seem to think social distancing lasts forever. If it does, we are even more screwed as a society than I imagine. The questions and responses below:
1. The NSW Premier says train lines are at capacity. Are you concerned the public transport system may not cope with a potential surge in passengers after COVID-19, potentially leaving some waiting for hours for services?
After COVID-19 means that social distancing rules would be lifted, right? So there should be sufficient capacity, the capacity constraint now is not vehicles, but number of people allowed per vehicle. If the distancing rules are lifted (since there haven’t been any new cases for X weeks), then capacity should be no worse than before COVID-19. I suspect demand will be lower for public transport anyway, as tourists, and people working from home, will both no longer be using transit as much, and some people will have found alternative modes.
2. On that note, are you concerned people may flout social distancing rules on public transport as life returns to normal?
That’s what normal is, the end of social distancing. If social distancing remains, it is not “normal”.
3. How can we ensure public transport can cope with a surge in usage while ensuring social distancing measures are enforced?
If there is no COVID-19 in the wild in New South Wales, we should not be constrained by social distancing. People concerned can of course wear masks, (and public health officials could require this if they were concerned) and reducing talking on buses and trains reduces potential transmission of many communicable diseases, this is what is done in many Asian cities.
I would add, to date, the evidence that public transport is a major source of transmission of COVID-19 is weak, France and Japan seem to be finding that transit is safe. Should you wear a mask? Sure, if you want to. And please, don’t talk on transit, it’s just better anyway. There are many reasonable adaptations.
Overall, society (and its members, and especially its politicians and press corps) are just too afraid of death. It’s sad when people die. It’s also sad when you try to live risklessly and give up on the reasons for living. It’s sad when authorities use the boogie man of public health risk (which in the long run, undermines people’s trust of the public health system) to shut down public protests (against those very same authorities) about social problems that now seem to have a window of opportunity after decades of social stagnation. It’s even sadder when people’s attempts to live risklessly, cooped up in their houses, increases actual risk, compared to the outdoors. If a vaccine never comes, are we supposed to abandon our cities, our playgrounds, our universities, and more parochially, our public transport systems, for an estimated 0.66% fatality rate among those with the virus? (And a far smaller loss of expected life years, since it disproportionately affects older people.)