“The ball is in the people’s court. They can keep Covid numbers in check or lead to a flare-up with reckless behaviour by not wearing masks,” said Dr Shashank Joshi, dean of the Indian College of Physicians and a member of the state task force on Covid-19.
If the suburban train network opens up for the average Mumbaikar, it would obviously mean that more people can return to work. This would reduce unemployment and help boost the local economy. However, the decision to make public transport more accessible is a double-edged sword. Unless social distancing rules are observed and commuters wear a mask, the city could experience a resurgence in Covid infections.
Social vaccines, or Covidappropriate behaviour, include use of face mask, keeping physical distance of one metre and using sanitisers (or frequent handwashes). “Given the crowds that travel on local trains, it is not possible to maintain social distancing,” said epidemiologist Dr Giridhar Babu of the Public Health Foundation of India. “So, the use of mask has to be stringently followed. If you are wearing a mask and others around you too are wearing one, the risk of transmission reduces by 99%.”
Additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said that as a first move, the frequency of train services will be increased so that the present “crowding” in trains can ease. Dr Joshi said that “depending on the behaviour of people and crowding patterns, with better frequency of trains, services will be unlocked further”. The authorities will also keep a close watch on infection rates over the next couple of weeks.
Incidentally, when New York restarted its subway system, there was no significant surge in cases. A study said New York City subway and bus riders are at low risk of being infected as long as trains and buses are well-ventilated and riders wear masks. “As Mumbai’s local trains are not closed AC carriages, the risk should be lower,” said a doctor from a BMC hospital.
Doctors believe there is another factor that could help Mumbaikars — the high level of exposure to the virus. Studies done by the BMC found that many in Mumbai, like New York, had high levels of antibodies to Covid-19. “If up to 30% of the people have antibodies and many others have been exposed to the virus, there is a possibility that transmission risk could be less,” said Dr Joshi. Only, people have to be mindful about carrying the virus to senior citizens at home.