The Centre is planning to allow metro service to resume at a time when Covid-19 cases in the national capital are on the rise–1,544 Covid-19 cases were reported on Tuesday, the highest daily tally in the last 40 days. While transport exports say that resumption of Metro services is crucial for economic revival, the medical fraternity is divided over the issue.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s operations were shut on March 22.
With nearly six million passenger journeys daily, the Delhi Metro is the transport lifeline of Delhi and the National Capital Region. As a majority of commercial activities have been allowed in the city, people are facing a lot of problems while commuting due to inadequate public transport and the restriction on the number of passengers who can travel at a given point of time.
Transport expert Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director (research and advocacy) at the Centre for Science and Environment, cites Hong Kong as an example where the services were never shut. “For the economy to revive, it is essential to reopen public transport, especially Metro services. A lot of cities such as Hong Kong, London have the metro system operational. In Hong Kong, metro operations were never stopped. They have adopted a lot of precautionary measures to ensure social distancing. This can be done here too,” Chowdhury said.
But the medical community is divided over it. While some say it should start as offices, markets, hotels restaurants etc have opened, others say starting metro services will result in faster spread of the contagious infection.
Epidemiologists point at the increase in positivity rate in the Capital and the recent serological survey report—29% of Delhi’s population is exposed to Covid-19 as per the second sero survey — and say that the opening of metro services should be deferred.
“As per the second sero survey report, nearly 2/3 of the population is still unexposed. The positivity rate is already on the rise and if you create opportunities for people to mingle, then it will increase the chances of transmission of the infection,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at ICMR.
As the Metro connects Delhi with Gurugram, Noida, Ghaziabad and Faridabad, experts say that this will result in crowding at stations. “How will social distancing be ensured at stations? Currently, a lot of people from neighbouring areas are not able to come to Delhi as Metro operations are closed. Starting it would only allow more movement of people and increase the chances of infection,” said Dr PK Sharma, epidemiologist and former medical health officer with the New Delhi Municipal Council.
But community medicine expert Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department at Safdarjung Hospital, disagrees. He said, “It is about time the government starts Metro services, as people are facing a lot of inconvenience while commuting. People are using their own vehicles which are causing air and sound pollution. People will use metro but should follow all the precautions such as use of face masks, social distancing etc.”
The DMRC has taken measures to ensure social distancing at its stations and trains. It has also prepared protocols, which will be modified as per the Centre’s guidelines, to ensure contactless and cashless travel.
Completely cashless transaction at ticketing counters, earmarking designated spots for passengers to stand while waiting for trains or at ticketing counters, use of face masks and Aarogya Setu mobile application, separate entry and exit point to the station premises are some of the measures the agency is likely to include in its protocols, said a DMRC official.
Roychowdhury, too, says that there is a need to build confidence among people. “We have anyway started bus and other public transport services and people are using it. We need to build confidence among people that this mode of travel will be safe by ensuring stringent implementation of precautionary measures.”
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