– Minibus operators say, as war on COVID-19 escalates
By Naomi Parris
MINIBUS operators across the country, especially those who ply the East Coast route, have jumped into swift action to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
With the large number of reported deaths and confirmed cases across the world, five of them here in Guyana, Errol Christie, a Route 44 (East Coast) minibus driver has noted that he is taking all necessary precautions to safeguard himself and his passengers.
“I have hand sanitisers on the passenger side of the bus, and I have rubbing alcohol that I use to sanitise my hands and my steering wheel and door handles,” Christie said.
He told the Guyana Chronicle that he is also cleaning his bus regularly with the necessary sanitation products as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Another Route 44 minibus operator, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Guyana Chronicle that he, too, is taking all the necessary measures to protect himself and those who enter his bus.
Noting that the situation at hand is a very serious one, he said that unlike many of the younger operators, he does not carry overload, and has even reduced the number of passengers he picks up so that persons can feel safe and comfortable when travelling in his bus.
He said that he is hoping that the Ministry of Health and the Guyana Police Force will clamp down on those who are still in the habit of over-packing the buses, or are making commuters double-up when travelling since it is very unsafe.
Revealing that he has suffered a financial blow due to the COVID-19 outbreak, one Route 40 minibus driver, who gave his name as Neville, stated that he has not been able to work consistently since the news broke of Guyana’s first case of the virus.
“I don’t really work every day now, since the coronavirus. Today mus’e the first day fuh the week me come out… Honestly, I don’t feel like I go’n wuk every day now, how dis t’ing got everybody home… Since elections-time, people hardly travelling; the virus plus the elections got everything pun standstill. People hardly travelling,” Neville said.
He, too, said he is taking all necessary measures to protect himself and those who travel in his vehicle. “I does use we li’l methylated spirits and alcohol rub and suh. We does wipe out de bus wid li’l bleach; we does wipe out de seat. Actually every trip yuh guh, yuh wipe,” Neville said. ‘Junior’, another popular minibus driver on the Route 40 bus park stated that he is armed with the necessary sanitation products to keep himself and passengers safe. However, he stated that his pocket has also suffered a financial blow since news broke of the country’s first COVID-19 case.
“I does clean my bus up every trip; I does use bleach and so on, and clean my bus out,” he said, adding: “But in terms of business, it is very slow; people are afraid to travel, because they don’t want to jam up to each other in the bus.”
Meanwhile, another minibus owner, Alywn Clarke, is appealing to the relevant authorities to decrease the percentage on vehicle payments during the COVID-19 outbreak, since business is not flowing as per normal.
“This situation here, it ain’t nice at all; yuh coming out in the day, and yuh barely mekkin’ a
li’l $8000. It ain’t right! And ah glad if the government could do something; a li’l subsidy fuh de bus drivers them… Is either de bank dem reduce the percentage on the loan suh you could get little more time to pay, ‘cause right now, we squeezing,” Clarke stated.
Stressing that things will be ‘tighter’ in the coming days, Clarke said business is very slow, and many vehicle owners and minibus operators like himself are finding it difficult to make payments on their vehicles, since there isn’t much business. “As the days go by, it getting stiffer, because the work is not so much on the road, because people are not coming out. And I’d be glad if something can be done for us owners and drivers of motor vehicles,” Clarke said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lauren Bancroft and a team of medical personnel from the Ministry of Public Health met with President of the United Minibus Union (UMU) Eon Andrews and Union members to discuss the plans set for the UMU to grapple with the deadly COVID-19 virus. The meeting was held on Monday at the Guyana Trades Union Congress Boardroom at Critchlow Labour College, where Dr. Bancroft and UMU members and public transportation providers were educated on the virus. The need for consistent and proper hygiene especially as it relates to hand sanitization was also explained and demonstrated.
Those present were also challenged to be proactive in the execution of their responsibilities to themselves and the commuters that they have to interact with during the course of their daily work schedule. Dr. Bancroft emphasised the need for all stakeholders to develop partnerships, so that the partners can have civil discussions as a collective, as to how best they can protect each other against the COVID-19 invasion, since by the very nature of their operations, persons have to be compacted in a small space and more so, overloading the buses can further exacerbate the situation with dire consequences.
World Health Organisation (WHO), Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and Ministry of Public Health paraphernalia were also distributed to the attendees that comprised Operators from Routes 31 (Georgetown-Patentia); 32 (Georgetown- Parika); 42 (Georgetown-Timehri); 44 (UG- Industry); 45 (Main-Lamaha-Hospital- Albert); 47 (East-West Ruimveldt); and 48 (Sophia).