Covid kills more among workers that depend on public transport

Deaths in the city of São Paulo are more frequent in poorer areas, where the population depends on public transportion

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
People who use public transportation are more vulnerable to the virus - Roberto Parizotti/FotosPublicas

The majority of people who have died of covid-19 in the city of São Paulo live in areas where the population depends on public transportation. Research done by the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), cross referenced data on covid-19 fatalities and the most recent study on subway departures and destinations, undertaken in 2017. The preliminary results indicate that those living in poorer districts, who have not been able to isolate and still take public transport, are the most common victims of the disease.

One of the people who led the analysis, Unifesp professor Kazuo Nakano, explains that the initial conclusions reinforce the perception that the poor and disenfranchised are more likely to become contaminated. “In fact, the majority of deaths occur in places where you have a higher concentration of low income people, with a family income of 0 to 3 monthly minimum wages.”

The researcher affirms that the analysis based on people's movement on the public transit system, brings forth new conclusions about the impact the coronavirus has on vulnerable populations. “It’s these poor workers, that depend on the bus, the train, the subway (…) We notice that these means of transportation are still jam packed during certain hours of the day. This explains the high number of deaths among those who live in poorer areas and need to circulate around the city using public transportation, which lacks protective mechanisms.”

The cross referencing of data on the comings and goings of people via mass transit, reveals that the majority of workers who live in impoverished areas are engaged in informal labor activities. The neighborhoods with the highest number of deaths have a great deal of autonomous workers. “Those that work for themselves, own a bar, a little shop, but also street vendors, domestic workers, day laborers and those who are unemployed. In order for these people to work or find work, they need to move around the city.”

On the other hand, in areas where there is a higher prevalence of private car usage, covid has a lesser impact. The study shows that in districts where the population mainly moves around in private vehicles there are less deaths caused by the disease. “Car trips are protecting the upper-middle class. They are the businessmen, high-ranking public servants, entrepreneurs. People engaged in these activities are a small percentage of the high numbers of fatalities by covid-19."

No protection for families

The vulnerabilities that workers who depend on public transportation face directly affect a part of the population who is managing to stay home, but are nevertheless being exposed to the virus. They are the companions, sons and family members of the workers who must routinely take the bus, train and subway. Unifesp’s research noticed a high level of contagion in areas where there are a lot of housewives, who mainly walk small distances on foot.

The issues raised in the study are fundamental, according to the professor. “It’s not enough just to isolate and practice social distancing. This is very important. However, we need to remember that these people don’t live alone and the day to day life of people in the same household is sometimes very different.”

“While some stay at home, others need to take the bus to go to work. Children and teenagers have leisure activities outside. All this needs to be taken into account since it is influencing contagion and fatalities.”

Faced with this reality, Kazuo defends articulating actions against the coronavirus that take into account the particularities of the population at higher risk of exposure. “It’s a double vulnerability. We need to start thinking about systematic protection of the population against covid-19. This is where many municipalities are making mistakes.”

“The battle against the illness doesn’t address vulnerabilities related to housing, of what these workers need to do with their kids when they leave. It is necessary to work systematically and this approach is not being used in poor neighborhoods.”

The conclusion that authorities need to act more firmly is inevitable in the professor’s view. “During these months of the pandemic we are easily seeing who is paying a higher price. The social cost of this pandemic is falling upon the working class, low income and poor people.”

“It’s the government’s duty to prioritize protecting these populations, because the middle class is able to protect itself, to stay isolated, they have money, they can live on the backs of delivery services,” he concludes.

Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho