Coronavirus in SA: Train commuters fear the spread of the virus in overcrowded carriages


South Africans who use trains, the cheapest form of public transport in the country, say they fear the spread of the novel coronavirus while travelling to and from work - often in overcrowded and unhygienic carriages - daily.

When News24 visited Stretford train station in Orange Farm on Friday there was no hand sanitiser available.

Employees sat in offices and didn't check whether commuters had valid tickets or not.

Some passengers who spoke to News24, pleaded with the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) to educate commuters about the virus, especially to those who don't realise that their behaviour can cause more harm.

Commuter Mike Mudau said he carried masks with him.

"Some of us have wear hand gloves and masks. Our trains are overcrowded and people are squeezing each other. Some don't cover their mouths whenever they cough or sneeze.

"This unhygienic behaviour has been continuing way before the coronavirus was known. I was hurt when some passengers asked me why I was wearing gloves and a mask because if it is my time of die, I will die regardless. They claimed that they are not afraid of coronavirus and made me feel like a fool for protecting myself from being infected," Mudau said.

READ | Coronavirus: Ramaphosa closes borders to all citizens from high-risk countries, bans large gatherings

He also complained about commuters who smoked cigarettes and dagga inside trains.

"It is well-known that there are coaches where non-smokers don't enter for their health. People do as they please inside our trains as if they own them.

"Hygiene is one of the important behaviours that we must all adhere to daily. People touch doors, balancing [with the help of] rails with their bare hands. We plead with Prasa to encourage passengers to use sanitisers before and after touching things inside trains," said Mudau.

Another commuter, Tefo Mosia, said he felt most passengers didn't care and treated the coronavirus like any other illness.

"They often say they are not afraid of the coronavirus and are only worried about having HIV/Aids. They don't care at all and are not worried about being infected and don't want to wear masks. They believe that coronavirus will never kill them," Mosia said. 

Coronavirus fears

Nkosinathi Moleko fears being infected.

"If I had more money, I was going to use my car to travel to work. I use trains because they are cheap. Our trains are not safe and are dirty and never punctual, overcrowded and some don't have windows.

"When it rains, we are in trouble. Prasa needs to improve their services and ensure that it protects cables from being stolen as it is affecting us morning and afternoon," Moleko said.

READ | Coronavirus: 'My worry is the people we transport' - Johannesburg taxi driver

Fellow commuter Dibuseng Mofokeng feels the same. 

"I am now afraid of being in crowded spaces. Trains are always packed with people and we squeeze each other. In a coach that we travel in daily, we don't have masks and it is worrying. We need to change our behaviour and wear masks," she said.

Prasa spokesperson Makhosini Mgitywa said: "Prasa is consulting with important stakeholders, such as the Department of Transport, the Rail Safety Regulator, commuter forums and labour unions, with a view to taking appropriate action with regard to the safety of our customers and employees.

"In the meantime, procurement processes have kicked in to ensure that Prasa customers and employees are provided with protection from risks associated with the spread of the Covid-19 virus."

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