Train travelllers wearing face masks

Train travellers wearing face masks

Transport for London’s re-licencing rejection of Uber highlighted the practice of their drivers swapping ID. Passengers were being driven by people who pretended to be someone else – 14,000 of them. Turning this on its head, taxi or minicab drivers rarely know who their passengers are either. We could be picking up terrorists, serial killers, gangsters – or people with infectious diseases.

In England it’d be considered to rude to ask someone outright if they have a contagious disease, or if they’re contemplating killing you. A London taxi partition offers some protection against a gunman annoyed at the roadworks slowing his journey, and possibly some protection against disease, but it’d be nice to be aware of the dangers in advance.

Disease-wise, I can recall BSE, Swine Flu, Bird Flu and SARS. Now we have a Coronavirus called COVID-19 (some older cab drivers might remember the Bubonic Plague outbreak of 1665). We can amuse ourselves with the story of the Uber driver suspended for taking someone infected with Coronavirus to hospital, but let’s not be too smug; it could happen to any of us. There are people flying in from all corners of the world every day. They’re cramming into airport express trains, rubbing up against each other on the Piccadilly tube; and are catching taxis and minicabs. As a subscriber to a computerised radio circuit I’m offered hospital jobs all day. Nobody but the most intrusive would ask someone why they’re making a hospital journey. You just don’t ask (although a surprising amount of people feel the urge to talk about their disease or disability as soon as they enter a cab).

Coach carrying Europeans back from China

Coach carrying Europeans back from China

Not everyone is responsible enough to self-quarantine, or even wash their hands regularly. Is it reasonable to refuse someone wearing a face mask, or who’s sneezing?  I suspect few cab drivers have read Transport for London’s Abstract of Laws pertaining to taxis. The laws list a number of ghastly-sounding infectious diseases known as “Notifiable Diseases”. Briefly, the rules are that no-one with a notifiable disease can enter a London taxi without informing the driver of his condition. I can’t see anything in the rules about refusing an infected person, so long as he “has paid a sufficient sum to cover any loss or expense incurred in the disinfection of the vehicle.”

We have a duty to inform the authorities if we pick up anybody with a notifiable disease, and our cab must be disinfected afterwards: “Any owner or driver of a taxi who conveys in it any person suffering from a notifiable disease, shall as soon as practicable give notice of the fact to the local authority for the district in which the vehicle is usually kept and shall cause the taxi to be disinfected before permitting any other person to enter it”. Interestingly, if an infectious person is carried without the driver’s knowledge, the driver can request a free disinfection of his cab from the authorities.

One of the notifiable diseases listed is measles. I understand this disease, traditionally vaccinated against in childhood, is making a comeback due to a generation of “I know my rights”- type modern parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids before sending them to school. Plague isn’t listed as a notifiable disease, though I’ve heard that the disease has appeared in recent years in other parts of the world. I’m not sure what the situation is with buses, tubes and trains; but the public will surely want to know what transport providers are doing to combat infection should the virus continue, or if another virus should appear in the future.

I certainly had something to think about when sat in my favourite Pret a Manger coffee shop making notes for this article. The coffee wallah came over to clear several empty paper cups from my table. I moved a few towards him to help. He told me not to touch them and said “that’s why I wear gloves”.  Unclean! Unclean! I washed my hands thoroughly after my coffee, wowing to never touch other people’s coffee cups again. Hopefully, we’ll all be a bit more careful with our health from now on.

Final thought: how many of us knew where Wuhan was before coronavirus? I pride myself on my geography, but I didn’t know. Apparently Wuhan is about the size of London. If people in Britain haven’t heard of Wuhan, are there people in Wuhan who have never heard of London or New York?