NEW YORK: In an unprecedented cleaning effort undertaken to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus, the New York City will shut down its 24-hour transit system – the largest in the US – from 1 am to 5 am daily to disinfect the subway network, commuter trains and buses.
New York, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, is gradually beginning to see decline in the number of daily hospitalisations, ICU admissions and fatalities. The state has more than 300,000 confirmed virus cases and over 23,600 people have died do far.
“This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings that the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has done,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said at his daily press briefing on Thursday.
“It’s going to require the MTA, the state, the city, the NYPD to all work together. It’s not that easy to stop train service. You have to close down stations, you have to make sure people don’t walk in, then you have to figure out how to clean all these trains and all these stations,” he said.
Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said the MTA will disinfect the New York City Transit system, including the Metro North and Long Island Railroad, daily as the state and city continue to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
With ridership in one of the busiest transit systems in the world already down 92 per cent, Cuomo said 1 am to 5 am slot will be “slow hours” and will have the lowest ridership.
The massive cleaning undertaking is unprecedented in the New York subway system that daily ferries millions of riders across the city’s five boroughs and suburbs, going as far as Connecticut.
“The entire public transportation system in downstate New York will be disinfected every 24 hours. This is a joint MTA, state, city partnership. We’re doing a lot of things here that we’ve never done before. But this is as ambitious as anything that we’ve ever undertaken. It’s going to require a lot of extraordinary service and effort from multiple agencies all working together,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said there is now a greater need than ever to disinfect the subways, buses and the stations.
“Because you’re in the middle of a pandemic, this is a place of density and you have thousands and thousands of people going through these subway stations, these turnstiles and these buses, trains. At the same time, you have more homeless people who now are on fewer trains and you have fewer people to outreach to the homeless people,” he said.
The MTA is North America’s largest transportation network, serving a population of 15.3 million people in the 5,000-square-mile area fanning out from New York City through Long Island, southeastern New York state, and Connecticut. In 2018, the MTA’s annual ridership was 2.65 billion and the average weekday ridership was 8.6 million.
The subway system was getting cleaned every 72 hours but the state will now clean the trains daily as it emerged that a large number of homeless people were seeking shelter in the trains and were seen camping in the subway cars with their fare.
This raised concerns about public safety and health as MTA workers and train operators said they have to continue working in such dire circumstances.
Mayor de Blasio said the ambitious cleaning will “make our subway system cleaner than its probably ever been its history honestly and address this crisis in a whole new way”.
Earlier this week, Cuomo, referring to a front page picture on The New York Daily News of a subway car filled with homeless people and their belongings, had said that it is “disgusting what is happening on those subway cars. It’s disrespectful to the essential workers who need to ride the subway system.”
He had said the essential workers deserve better and the public transportation system must be clean, where the trains are disinfected.
“You have homeless people on trains, it’s not even safe for the homeless people to be on trains. No face masks, you have this whole outbreak, we’re concerned about homeless people, so we let them stay on the trains without protection in this epidemic of the Covid virus? No. We have to do better than that, and we will,” Cuomo had said.
Michael Fischer, president of the Central Park Civic association representing over 10,000 residents, said in order to guarantee the subway remains safe for riders, “no homeless should be allowed to use the train cars as shelter – especially during a pandemic.”
The Covid-19 graph in New York is gradually flattening.
Cuomo said 306 more people died of the virus in New York, down from the 330 reported on Wednesday, the lowest one-day toll reported since March 30.
The number of patients newly admitted to hospitals also declined, after having picked up slightly on Wednesday. Further, the number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals dropped for the 17th straight day and is now below 12,000, down nearly 40 per cent from the middle of the month, when nearly 19,000 virus patients were hospitalised.