How are you travelling now restrictions have eased? - Alastair Dalton
Without transport in its broadest sense, there would be no Covid pandemic
That might seem obvious, but it has ongoing implications for all but those not quarantining or shielding.
As well as considering the potential consequences of travel on those we encounter at the places where we are going, there is also the equally significant issue of with whom we are sharing our travel.
My previous inclination was to walk, cycle, or take a bus or train rather than drive or fly, for health and environmental reasons, along with personal preference.
But the coronavirus crisis has turned my thinking on its head, or at least posed a quandary.
If it’s health I’m concerned about, public transport now poses a new risk because of being in a confined space with many others.
So what do I do for a journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh?
Take a train, as I would normally do, or drive, with the far greater safety risks and environmental consequences?
Of course, with the continued working from home presumption in Scotland and none of the usual Edinburgh Festival traffic, trains on such routes are likely to be much quieter than normal – I haven’t travelled on one for five months.
Across ScotRail, trains are 75 per cent less busy than they were a year ago.
But that hasn’t been the case everywhere, and I’ve been contacted by passengers with horror stories on some cross-Border routes.
They expressed alarm at the lack of face coverings or distancing.
During disruption last week which led to overcrowding, one traveller was aghast to hear an announcement “Unfortunately, we will not be observing social distancing today”.
I’ve also seen reports of face coverings not being worn on trains in Scotland, including by groups of youths.
The fear of encountering those types of scenarios will put some people off all but the shortest journeys.
Despite that, the Rail Safety and Standards Board said the risk of infection was 0.01 per cent on an average journey – or 1 in 11,000.
By contrast, you would think flying would be riskier – cooped up in a sealed tube in much closer proximity to strangers.
The International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents the aviation industry, said the studies done so far showed low transmission rates of Covid inflight compared to in other environments.
It said while there had been cases where the virus had been passed on during a journey, this was something that “could occur” rather than being a “common scenario”.
Iata has pointed to specific features of aircraft which it said reduced the transmission risk, such as passengers facing the same way with little face to face interaction, seats creating solid barriers, and cabin air flowing from roof to floor, and filtered every few minutes.
Face coverings are standard for air passengers, with some airlines going further, such as Qatar Airways requiring visors to also be worn by everyone on board.
Travel experts are predicting the full recovery of the Chinese domestic air travel market within a week or so, with bookings already nearly back at last year’s levels.
China is where the pandemic started and appears to be showing us the way out of it.
However, the key test for Scotland is still ahead, if people become bolder and transport becomes busier.
But some may well feel safer continuing to work from home.
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