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By Carlena Knight

Social distancing protocols will once again be put in place for public transportation.

This is a reversal on rules in the June 24 government gazette permitting buses to run at full seating capacity.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a press briefing yesterday that the U-turn was due to increased concern over the close proximity of passengers and the heightened risk of coronavirus contagion.

“You would recall that at an earlier period when we were looking to resume normal business, or to bring a degree of normalcy to business and economic operations in the country, that the bus services would have indicated that they are operating below their normal level of economic activity and as such they may have been sustaining some losses at that stage,” he said.

“They were allowed to revert to [regular practices] but clearly that is an unsustainable position because the proximity of persons within those buses has created a further cause for concern and so the government has taken the view that we have to revert back to the social distancing practices.”

There is no official word on when this action will be implemented as discussions are ongoing with the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board (ABTB) in partnership with the Ministry of Health which will stipulate precise guidelines.

Previous rules included a limit on the number of passengers based on the total number of seats and mandated that the seat adjacent and directly behind the driver be left vacant.

Bus drivers have also been required to clean and disinfect their vehicles after every trip and before receiving new passengers; keep windows down during the journey; limit direct interaction with passengers; and install material that is easy to clean on the seats.

Passengers and drivers must always wear facemasks and passengers must sanitise their hands and luggage before entering the bus.

Meanwhile, to assist bus drivers feeling the pinch, the government has granted a weekly subsidy on gas for public transportation. The stipulated amount and when it will be implemented has also been left up to the ABTB to decide.

“It’s going to be subject to negotiations. The Cabinet would have given the Transport Board and the minister responsible for the Transport Board some guidelines but I think as soon as those negotiations are completed both events will take place simultaneously in that we will have to come back and gazette the position with respect to the distancing that we would require in the types of buses and as well to give the public an indication as to the subsidy the bus operators will be able to avail themselves of,” Nicholas added.

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