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With Covid-19 infection rates higher than ever Halifax Transit must do better

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Three bus drivers have tested positive since the start of the third wave, and advisories to Halifax Transit passengers to self-isolate and get tested immediately are a daily occurrence. 

In March of last year, when the virus first arrived here, Halifax Transit waived fees, allowing passengers to use the rear doors to board and exit and thus limiting bus drivers’ exposures. Bus occupancy was limited. Fares were waived.

These measures were put in place after Nova Scotia had one confirmed and six presumptive cases of Covid-19. 

But now, with infection rates higher than ever before, and while facing new more virulent and deadly Covid-19 strains, Halifax Transit has refused to make a similar adjustment, arguing that provincial social distancing rules have been exempted on buses and ferries. 

Halifax Transit has also said the newly installed plexiglass side separation together with masks and extra cleaning should be sufficient protection for drivers and passengers. It has labeled alternating no-sit seats to ensure passengers don’t get too close to one another.

Ken Wilson, President and Business Agent of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 508, and representing all of Transit’s operational and maintenance staff, has,  with increasing urgency, been asking the city to do better.

He has asked for onsite testing, and to reinstate reduced loading and a stricter enforcement of the no-mask rule. He also wants capacity restrictions, just like there were in early 2020. At that time buses were allowed to run at 50% of capacity, with a maximum of 5 standing passengers. 

The bus only gets cleaned once it’s back in the garage, says Wilson, and a plexiglass shield offers little protection against a virus that we now know is mostly airborne.  

As well, reduced seating on a busy bus means more standing, making social distancing impossible.

This isn’t last year’s virus. Journalist Emma Smith reports for the CBC how one woman caught the virus from her daughter, who caught it at her daycare. The mother then infected a friend she visited while distancing and outdoors. And by the way, this happened before the lockdown.

“I don’t think that quite as many people get the fact that this is a more serious form of this disease than we have been seeing before,” Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease researcher and clinician at Dalhousie University, told Smith in the same article.

I wonder if Halifax Transit is getting it. 

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