Be travel savvy: getting around London safely

Public Transport UK

Should you be planning to come to London in this time of Covid, there’s much to consider to ensure you, those with you and those you come into contact with remain safe. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease; getting too close to others coughing, sneezing, talking and just, yes, breathing is enough to potentially catch the virus.

So, if you’re looking to take advantage of London hotels special offers, one Coronavirus-related health and safety imperative is how you get about the city – especially using public transport.

Ventilation on public transport

To keep clear of the virus when travelling by bus, Overground train or the London Underground (Tube), you must consider ventilation. This is very important on buses and Overground trains – you’re highly advised to sit next to a window that’s open – but hugely important on Tube trains.

In the open air, breathed-out droplets (potentially containing Covid-19) are dissipated by wind and the air’s natural movement. Yet, that doesn’t happen at all as effectively in a confined space – even more so with poor ventilation. It’s simply far likelier you’ll breathe in droplets from someone else’s breath in a confined space – hence why it’s not necessary to wear a face- mask outdoors (in the UK) but absolutely imperative indoors when you’re not at home or in a hotel room (at the likes of Montcalm Royal London House).

Consider this: a 2018 University College London study found that people who travelled on the Tube were more likely to suffer flu-like symptoms than people who don’t. The reason why is the point made above – droplets don’t dissipate well indoors and the deep-lying Tube network has notoriously bad ventilation.

So, what to take from this? Well, surely the lesson that, at this time, it’s a definite risk to travel on the Tube – and, to less of an extent, on London’s other public transport options, which do at least boast better ventilation and access to fresh air.

Does it make a difference where you sit or stand?

A research study from December 2019-March 2020 into Coronavirus-carriers in China and their train-sitting habits does suggest where someone sits on a non-subway train – and, to extrapolate that further perhaps, on a bus – may affect how likely they’ll pass on the virus or catch it.

The study’s findings suggest, then, that those who sit on the same row as (and especially next to) a virus carrier, are most at risk of transmission, while those who sit behind are less at risk. It appears that, in the latter case. the backrests of train seats could act as a sort of barrier between a virus carrier and a non-infected individual, reducing the chance of transmission.

What about standing, though? Well, a 2013 study into the behaviour of New York City subway passengers found that, inevitably, standing travellers were more likely to hold on to overhead poles, vertical poles and other handholds. This then, obviously, points to standing travellers being most at risk of picking up Covid-19 should they behave, unthinkingly, in the same way on London’s train and Tube network – don’t forget; if you’ve touched a contaminated surface and, mere seconds later, touch your mouth or nose with the same hand, you’re highly likely to transmit that contaminant into your airways.

Positive reflections

However, there is a silver lining among all the research. An article in the New York Times from August 2020 rightly made the point that Covid-19 contract tracing in Japan, France and Austria had found no links between outbreaks of the virus and the use of public transport networks. And, as far as this writer’s aware, no outbreaks have so far been traced to people using London’s public transport network, either.

Moreover, another August 2020 article (this time in National Geographic magazine) pointed out that mathematic models of Covid-19 transmission suggest that, so long as you wear a face-mask all the time, it’s less risky to travel on public transport than to frequent stuffy bars full of people (in, for instance, Finsbury Square restaurants).

So, although more evidence is really needed in this area, that’s food for positive thought… at least, until the real game-changer of a vaccine arrives, of course.