A total of 57 taxi drivers and 25 bus drivers in Hong Kong’s dedicated Covid-19 transport fleets have been diagnosed with the disease after shuttling patients with mild or no symptoms to clinics.

File Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

As the number of Covid-19 patients rose from several thousand a day in late February, the government set up a dedicated fleet of 300 taxis to divert calls from overburdened ambulance services. Those with mild or no symptoms can reserve a free ride to one of the city’s designated Covid-19 clinics through the fleet’s website.

Expanded fleets

To meet surging demand, the fleet of taxis expanded from 300 to 430, and now includes 1,000 mini buses and non-franchise buses to shuttle patients in groups, according to Transport Department (TD) figures. The drivers signed up to work for 14 days at a time and were required to undergo mandatory coronavirus tests during this period. Taxi drivers were entitled to HK$3,000 in wages a day, although they would cover their own costs.

As of March 14, about 13 per cent of the fleets’ taxi drivers and 2.5 per cent of bus drivers had contracted the coronavirus. Once infected, they would not be able to continue with the scheme.

The government engaged an insurance company to cover participating drivers for the risk of infection. Once infected, drivers would “receive cash subsidies under the insurance cover,” a spokesperson for the TD told HKFP. The amounts of these subsidies were not specified, however.

To minimise infection risks, drivers are required to wear protective gowns, face masks and face shields, as well as to keep the vehicles’ windows open.

Hong Kong has recorded a total of 761,550 Covid-19 cases and 4,568 deaths since the pandemic began.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.