Transport Department (TD) has refused to answer questions on a rumoured transport lockdown while at the same time approving a massive bus service cut from the five franchised bus firms.
TD says it approved the axing of some 98 routes with alternative public transport services available, five recreational routes operated during weekends and one overnight route.
That’s around a seventh of Hong Kong’s total bus routes, with more cuts expected later.
Of those axed routes, 88 are from KMB, which has also reduced frequency on 46 routes and says over 2,000 staff are off sick with Covid or were affected “by quarantine measures” as at 3pm yesterday.
The bus firm warns that more staff are likely to get sick.
One factor in KMB’s staff Covid rate may be high staff smoking rates, with bus captains and KMB staff regularly seen illegally smoking without masks within non-smoking areas of many Public Transport Interchanges across town.
Today a joint HKU/CUHK study said smokers’ behaviour may be a risk factor in catching Covid. Dr Ryan Au Yeung Shiu-lun, Assistant Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of the School of Public Health, HKUMed told an RTHK radio show this morning that behavioural explanations could account for the increased risk. “When people smoke they have to take off their masks, so essentially that exposes the smokers to the virus, that might increase their risk of contracting Covid,” he said.
KMB has not commented on the issue of staff smoking.
TD says it has approved the service cuts from 4 March to 16 March inclusive “taking into account factors such as the absence situation of the bus captains of the franchised bus companies, extent of patronage drop of the routes concerned, occupancy, availability of alternative public transport services and efficient deployment of resources”.
On Tuesday, the day before the cuts were announced, TD referred all questions on a potential transport lockdown to a government press release, which stated there “due consideration would also be given to maintaining the operations of important and essential activities in society and addressing the needs of the public.”
The press release did not specifically address transport and TD would not comment further.