UPDATE 16 March: As at 14 March, Transport Department says 57 drivers of 450 taking part in the scheme have been infected. The government says it is expanding the scheme to 950 taxis in total – more news to follow
30 cab drivers have been infected with Covid after being paid $3,000 a day by the government to ferry Covid-positive patients to and from designated clinics.
The 30 infected represent around 10% of the taxi drivers recruited under the scheme which kicked off 25 days ago. The drivers will now need to isolate for seven days, with family members and close contacts facing quarantine orders.
Even as the news broke, the government was trying to recruit another 500 drivers to the scheme.
Transport Secretary Frank Chan Fan said the government was hoping to expand the scheme to reduce stress on hospital admissions – this morning, accident and emergency wards across the city were at an average 106% occupancy, with Queen Elizabeth Hospital, a designated Covid hospital, at 140% occupancy.
Under the taxi ambulance service, Covid patients with only mild symptoms can get a free taxi to one of 17 designated clinics, avoiding a hospital visit.
The government says around 25,000 patients have visited the clinics, while it provided no specific numbers of how many passengers the Covid taxis have taken.
Neither the Transport and Housing Bureau or Transport Department responded to questions on sick pay or compensation for the sick cabbies.
Under the scheme, taxi drivers need to be fully vaccinated and wear protective gear. But many netizens have spotted the Covid taxis driving patients with windows closed, for example, against government advice.
One medical expert had warned that only healthy triple-jabbed drivers should take the jobs, as there would still be a risk of getting infected.
“I wouldn’t recommend older drivers or those with chronic medical conditions doing this,” said Dr Siddharth Sridhar, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at HKU, ahead of the scheme launch.