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Minibus Drivers Face COVID-19 Dilemma

By Reginald Andrew

Amidst the upheaval and concerns pertaining to adherence to the Covid-19 protocols—the issue of ‘mandatory vaccination’ for the island’s mini-bus drivers is being highlighted.

Bus drivers in a huddle.
Bus drivers in a huddle.

Cognizant of the underlying circumstances that currently prevails in the fight to curb the spread of the virus, the National Council of Public Transport (NCOPT) says though the ‘dilemma’ has not yet reached crisis level,  nonetheless, they are concerned about the welfare of their members and their ability to provide a ‘safe and conducive’ service to the public.

The NCOPT disclosed that at least 50 members have contracted the Covid-19 virus so far, and counting, while a few drivers have also succumbed to the illness.

The Council’s Public Relations Officer Dominic Lesmond notes that the Council continuously appeals to its members to ‘do the right thing’, though this has not always been forthcoming.

“Prior to that, the National Council has already written to all the associations to step up on the protocols, which involves especially sanitizing and mandating the wearing of masks for passengers and the drivers,” he said.

Lesmond said despite also adhering to the social distancing criteria and limited amount of passengers on the bus, over the last weeks, they have experienced the death of a mini-bus driver due to Covid-19.

In light of the deteriorating situation at hand, the NCOPT recently held discussions with health and transport authorities, in an attempt to chart a way forward for its members.

Lesmond said the executive is due to meet again shortly, and “we made some suggestions, the ministry (health) made some suggestions and we are due to meet again to iron it out.”

However, he noted, “it’s difficult, because most people say that it was after the general elections that the escalation began. Many of our drivers from both sides were in the rallies and … in some instances, it was suggested that the election campaign took the place of carnival, this year.”

Though the NCOPT members admit there are still some major issues of concern still to be addressed, the membership is split on the issue of ‘vaccination’. Internal differences exist amongst the bus operators as to the validity and importance of taking the vaccine to help contain the virus.

“Some of our members have taken it, including me …and most of the other guys have not and it’s only a few of us that have taken the vaccine” declared Lesmond. “I see that as a problem, because you need leadership to get certain things done and now that we’re facing a crisis, if you do not have the vaccine you will not have the motivation to push the other guys to get vaccinated.”

The NCOPT continues to hold discussions on the vaccine, with a view to encouraging other operators to take the lead by getting vaccinated.

“It’s really a ’split thing’, the government have said that they are not going to make it mandatory to get vaccinated …and since everyone has their rights, so that is how it is for now,” said Lesmond.

Noting that the government has no immediate plans for enforcing the issue of ‘mandatory vaccination’, what are the views from the NCOPT’s perspective?

“We don’t want to pressurize anyone …and we see a lot of resistance in it, so we are looking to get a better idea from the Ministry of Health,” the NCOPT’s PRO explained. “We could give them whatever we have also, to see how we can soften the tone and encourage people to be vaccinated.”

Lesmod says the NCOPT will continue to liaise with the health officials in an effort to help debunk the misconceptions about the vaccine.

He added that no longer can operators and members of the public remain oblivious of the imminent dangers involved, “because, right now it’s a crisis.”

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