The new Covid taxis carry a blue sign – in Chinese only – and can only be used for transporting patients to booked designated clinic appointments

The new taxi service ferrying non-priority Covid patients will open for bookings on Friday (18 February), with around 300 taxis registered and 220 taking part from the launch morning.

The government said the service would help patients who were still waiting for hospital admission to visit one of seven designated clinics if they were concerned about their symptoms.

The taxi rides will be free but must be booked ahead through the website or booking hotline (3693 4770), open from 8am to 10pm. The system will allocate a driver who will contact the patient directly, says the government.

Taxi drivers signing up will need to be vaccinated, according to government sources, and test negative with a daily rapid antigen test before starting work. They will be provided with masks and protective gowns to wear while driving. Passengers must sit in the back seat, and will need to have booked an appointment at one of the designated clinics.

The scheme is not mandatory, with the government asking patients to use the service “as far as possible”. Transport and Housing Bureau says the system received 1,400 bookings on its first day, making 750 trips between 8am and 6pm on Friday.

According to reports, taxi trade representatives said drivers would ask for around $60,000 per month for working as healthcare drivers, while taxi owners would seek around $15,000 per month for the rental of the taxi.

But one medical expert yesterday warned that only healthy triple-jabbed drivers should take the jobs, as there would still be a risk of getting infected.

Dr Siddharth Sridhar, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at HKU, said providing the service could be a “manageable risk” for drivers, if they were triple vaccinated, wore N95 masks or “KN95 and goggles”.

“I wouldn’t recommend older drivers or those with chronic medical conditions doing this,” he told Transit Jam yesterday.

The government says the number of taxis joining the scheme will be adjusted according to demand.

Many thousands of patients are now waiting for hospital admission and have been asked to isolate in their homes. The seven new Hospital Authority clinics are designed to alleviate concerns of those patients who develop symptoms.

Patients can call a hotline to get further advice, says the government. “The hotline 1836 115 will operate daily from 8am to 10pm seven days a week beginning today to answer enquiries on medical information and provide infection control advice for people pending admission to isolation facilities upon confirmed infection,” an HA spokesman said.

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