COVID-19: How it changes the way we travel?

The COVID-19 pandemic hit India harder than we all expected. It was towards the end of February that India saw heightened precautions against possible spread of COVID-19 in our country. By early March, governments had started implementing precautionary measures even in domestic travel. Sometime in the second week of March, the numbers began rising, and panic started to set in. Towards the end of March, we went in to a prolonged lockdown, which hasn't been completely reversed yet. It isn't time yet to reverse the lockdown, or travel! 

How would this change the way we travel?

People say wearing the mask would be the "new normal" - but would that be? Has anyone fancied wearing the mask while you go to sleep, for over 8 hours when you travel, and eating food when its break time. 

People say social distancing would be the "new normal" - Social what? Is it really feasible for a country of 1.3 Billion people to actually practice social distancing? Try to think of Mumbai's Local Trains, or Chennai's MTC buses enforcing "social distancing". Social Distancing is an elitist concept that works in countries with as much lower population - not for one with a burgeoning population like ours. 

Temperature checks - the "new normal" - Over 60% of our country's Covid cases were asymptomatic, meaning, they didn't have fever. So what is the purpose of a temperature check? Even otherwise, you could always pop a fever pill before traveling and hoodwink the check (people really did that at airports). 

Sanitizers at every step - come on. You are killing your hands! The commensal bacteria living on your palms are gone, leaving you vulnerable for bacterial skin infections. You basically invest on a sanitizer, so that you can invest on treatments for hand infections later!

Traveling, in short, wouldn't be the old 'normal' again for quite some time for sure.

Studies show that passengers traveling in close contact with a COVID-19 patient is at a very high risk of contract the disease despite precautions. An important factor that determines the possibility of an infection in the intensity and duration of exposure to the infectant. While the precautions help reduces the intensity of exposure, the duration of expsore isn't reduced. The effect of exposure could be particular complex in closed environments. Aircraft manufacturers and airlines have, over the last few weeks released videos about how safe the air-conditioning system in an aircraft is. While the facts shown on videos are indeed true, the possibility of infection due to exposure cannot be completely ruled out. News reports have shown that copassengers of Covid-19 patients in aircrafts did test positive in the following days.

Aircrafts feature sophisticated air-conditioning systems that include HEPA filters and frequent air changes. The same cannot be said about trains or buses. Frequent air changes generally mean more energy requirements to cool the air. This directly means more fuel consumed. Bus operators may not prefer higher fuel consumption. Recent newspaper reports suggest that the railways are upgrading their HVAC systems to include frequent air changes and high efficiency filtration systems to make the journey safer - really good if that is true. I hope bus AC manufacturers develop such systems as well.

So how about traveling without AC?

Doesn't really help, although it does reduce a certain amount of risk. The duration of exposure doesn't really reduce, but the air currents due to air gushing in through the windows could actually take the virus in directions that may not be predicted. The dynamics of spread of this virus is still a matter of contest, and not really well understood. The WHO, which has done more U-turns than an average autodriver, has been telling contrasting things about the virus. The Corona virus is a heavy virus and generally doest travel over a metre in ideal circumstances. Here we are in a situation where the air is blowing. It is possible that the virus travels longer as the air blows. Infection thrown fomites is not well known. Conflicting reports claim different duration of survival of this virus on different strata. Thus the virus could well settle on walls, seats, etc and then infect another individual through contact. 

So, is travelling safe?

No, would be my answer. As a blog that celebrated travel, it is a very sad thing to write. The last thing on your mind must be traveling. Unless it is really an emergency, travel shouldn't be considered at all. And if you need to travel, remember that a shorter duration of exposure helps in keeping the risk of infections low. If you can drive, that's a good option. Fly otherwise. Trains or buses should be the last option at this point. AC or Non-AC, the longer the duration of exposure, the higher the risk of an infection.

It has been over 4 months since my last long travel. I did travel locally in a bus about a month back. But that was with an N95 mask and frequent sanitizer use. It was an unavoidable circumstance, but the overall experience was far from enjoyable. Please seem to have forgotten the fact that we aren't safe yet, and social distancing seemed very absent. The bus had less than 40% occupancy, and still people preferred sitting 3 in a seat and crowding around the door.

The takeaway of this ride was to stay far, as far as possible, from public transport at least till we beat the virus. I am a strong proponent of public transportation and still believe that is the way forward to have a sustainable environment. Planet earth is now teaching us a lesson. Age old concept of cleanliness is returning. People now wash their hands more frequently than ever before. In the olden days, people washed their hands and legs before entering their homes. We are back to doing that. The nature is showing its way. It's all join together to beat this situation. 

#staysafe people. #stayhome and help #breakthechain.