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EghtesadOnline: The national coronavirus taskforce is planning to make wearing facemasks mandatory in public transportation, including buses and subway, a deputy health minister said.

Speaking to ISNA, Iraj Harirchi added that there are yet some incongruencies in the decision, but these safety measures must be taken in crowded places like subway stations and inside the trains.

“The authorities are also considering the distribution of subsidized facemasks at the entrance of subway stations to help implement the plan,” Harirchi said.

Pointing to the fact that in some countries, handmade facemasks account for about 40% of public usage, the deputy minister urged citizens to use homemade masks that are cost-effective and customizable. 

“There are numerous do-it-yourself instructions in the media that can be of great help to the people,” he added.

The measure is hoped curb the risk of using public means of transportation, considering the fact that the number of passengers using buses and subway is on an upward trajectory. 

According to Tehran Metro CEO Farnoush Nobakht, the number of commuters using subway daily reaches 500,000.  

Nobakht said 7-8 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. are the metro rush hours and urged commuters to avoid the crowd as far as possible.

Officials have also marked subway seats with special signs to help passengers maintain a safe distance.

“However, with the increasing number of passengers, the observation of these social distancing criteria will be practically impossible,” he said.

Social distancing is being promoted by governments as the most efficient way to minimize the spread of novel coronavirus and flatten its curve in affected communities. 

However, in the Iranian capital, things are somehow different. With the reopening of low-risk businesses in the city from April 11 and lifting of inter-city traffic restrictions, the partial quarantine observed since late February is gradually ending.

Before COVID-19, Tehran Metro used to carry up to 3 million passengers per day. Health experts warn that the use of public transport can increase the coronavirus infection risk.

Officials have repeatedly warned that the virus is still spreading and infecting people in the city and the situation has not normalized. The resumption of social activities can make it tough to handle mortalities related to the disease.

According to the Health Ministry, public vehicles are more polluted compared to universities and schools, so extra care should be taken by citizens using them.

Urban managers say the ventilation system of subway trains is concentrated, meaning that the air in wagons is constantly circulating and combining with air outside the train. 

This means one infected person in a train car can most possibly pollute the air in all cars. Since this is also the case in buses, there is a strong possibility of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic starting in the city, if nothing is done to prevent transmission.

By April 29, COVID-19 has infected 3,139,471 people in the world, claiming the lives of 218,024. According to the official reports, 959,212 patients have so far recovered.

In Iran, 92,584 people have been diagnosed with the acute respiratory disease, 5,877 of whom have died.

Challenges of Taxi Drivers

Figures say over 450 taxi drivers have tested positive in COVID-19 tests and 32 of whom have died of the disease, which shows the job’s high risk, the head of Iran Taxi Union, Morteza Zameni, told reporters.

In line with social distancing policies, cabs in Tehran and other Iranian cities have been ordered to accept only three passengers (instead of four) per trip, without increasing the fare.

Zameni noted that although a large number of cabbies have so far adhered to the rule, the policy has had negative impacts on the livelihood of drivers.

The total number of passengers using taxis for commutation has seen a 70% decline since the disease was reported in Iran, as businesses faced closures. 

In addition, the reduction in fare for seating three instead of four passengers and the extra expenditure on disinfectants, facemasks and separator shield have reduced the income of taxi drivers.

 We cannot implement a national scheme by discounting people’s daily income,” Zameni said. 

“The government should pay financial allowance to drivers to compensate for their loss. This can also motivate cabbies to continue their efforts and sincerely adhere to the rules.”


Iran public transportation Subway coronavirus Facemasks buses