Transport Perspectives: Coronavirus and Cancellations
It’s the topic on everyone’s mind; how bad will the outbreak become and how at risk am I? Panic buying is rife, and events are being cancelled or else are expected to be significantly quieter than their usual attendance. MIPIM, due to be held at the end of the month has already been postponed and attendees are scaling back their participation overall. Six Nations fans will have to wait to see France play Ireland, yet other events are soldiering on despite the concerns
The Cheltenham Gold Cup runs tomorrow as scheduled and the crowds are already assembling. Critics call it irresponsible – how can you justify holding a large-scale event that may cause coronavirus to spread faster?
There are of course the usual arguments. The prevailing advice from the government is caution, not cancellation and there are the economic impacts to consider. If running ahead is going to cause a PR disaster, or your event is too tricky to keep clean and healthy even when there isn’t a pandemic (see Glastonbury festival on a wet year!) then maybe you’d want to call things off.
But those arguments aside, if we consider the risk of exposure in raw numbers, the picture changes.
Cheltenham Racecourse has a capacity of some 67,500 spectators, plus the bookies, staff, jockeys and owners. Let’s round that up to a healthy 68,000 and make it a worst-case scenario in which no one is put off by the outbreak and the stands are packed. Infection can spread from an unlucky sneeze, but the rule of thumb for contagion is 15 minutes of close contact. For spectators, that’s roughly speaking the 5-10 people parked around you.
Which is nearly the same as a seat on London tube car.
A counterargument, then. People in a crowd mill about. They touch things and go bumping into you, so it’s not merely 5-10 people you’re exposed to but a whole lot of strangers. That 68,000 we mentioned. True, but again, consider a station.
Waterloo gets roughly 250,000 passengers through its concourses per day, and Victoria isn’t far behind with about 200,000. At peak hours, when around a quarter of daily trips occur, you’ll be muddling through a crowd of some 50-60,000, stopping to wait for trains, queuing, standing on escalators, buying and touching things.
And in fact, if travelling by public transport, your daily commute is likely to be riskier. The Jockey Club, who run the Cheltenham Festival is well-versed in dealing with health concerns. In 2001, the festival was cancelled due to foot-and-mouth but persevered through other years. Back of house, the event is strictly vetted (quite literally) to control disease and doping, and reports say that on the public side this year there are patrolling teams of St John’s Ambulance staff, clear signs, and hand sanitising stations have popped up all over the courses. On the London underground, you have to bring your own.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that some events have continued to run and perhaps should not be condemned as reckless for doing so given that they will run only a short time whereas many of us run comparable risk of exposure just getting across the cities we live in. Even getting to and from these events is similar to many people’s daily commute. The Guardian reports that last year, more than 130,000 people used Cheltenham Spa train station over four days of races, and 80,000 travelled in the shuttle bus service between the town centre and racecourse.
Ultimately, the decision on whether it is best to keep calm and carry on or stay home rests with the individual until we hit a point where, like Italy, social isolation becomes a mandated necessity.
We’ll be interested to see what other impacts arise in transport as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The UK is facing the largest move to home-working and constrained movements it has seen in digital times and the effects of such mass change in travel behaviour on air quality, energy consumption, and the economy can only be informative.Back to News