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Police Powers in the Coronavirus Epidemic and Avoiding Public Transport

By 4th April 2020 No Comments

By Roger Lawson, ABD Campaign Manager in London.

The Government is encouraging us all to stay at home during the Coronavirus epidemic, and only travel when essential. This is wise advice indeed and certainly travelling on public transport or attending meetings in person should be avoided. It is a pity that London Mayor Sadiq Khan did not promote those rules when the epidemic first became clear instead of advising people that travel on the underground was safe. He has since changed his tune. But this was undoubtedly one reason why London has become a breeding ground for the virus with infections and deaths from the disease much higher there than in most of the country.

To understand why public transport is so dangerous, this is what Matt Ridley, a scientist and writer, had to say in one of his blog posts: “Most infection seems to occur indoors and worryingly quite a lot may have happened within the medical system especially in Italy in the early weeks. According to one study, on tissue paper the virus survives less than three hours, on wood and cloth two days, on glass and banknotes four days and on stainless steel and plastic a week”. In practice therefore just touching a hand hold on a bus or underground train could pass on the infection.

This writer therefore advises everyone to avoid public transport for the duration unless absolutely essential and some precautions are taken. Those people who are especially vulnerable due to age or existing medical conditions should of course not leave their homes at all but “self-isolate” like the Prime Minister whether you have virus symptoms or not.

The Alliance of British Drivers does suggest that using a car is the preferred mode of transport as it will enable you to avoid contact with other people. You just need to take care when refuelling it with petrol or diesel, and subsequently paying (use a contactless card if you can). Wear gloves if possible and wash your hands afterwards. You could also travel by cycle or walk of course but there is then more danger or coming into close contact with other people so more care needs to be taken and those modes are not practical for many trips.

The police seem to have taken a very heavy-handed approach in some cases and are stopping people from driving on what they consider “non-essential” journeys. Fixed penalty notices are being issued when unjustified. This is not what the regulations actually say – see: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/regulation/6/made

You can leave home and therefore travel for many reasons including taking exercise, and you can certainly travel to work, travel to shop for food or other essentials, to go to a bank or travel to support vulnerable family members. As it’s a lot safer to use a car than catch a bus or train, that should be the preferred mode of transport unless you can walk or cycle.

Some people seem to be using the virus epidemic as a justification for stopping all use of private transport but that is certainly not valid. This is what Mark McArthur-Christie had to say recently in a tweet: “Buses are great – they’re a fine way to get around if (a) there is one and (b) you have time, money and flexibility to spare. But making people use a bus when they have a car is like making them use a launderette when they have a washing machine at home”.

That’s an argument worth remembering.

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