Plastic shields cut virus exposure for riders: study

Friday December 03 2021
Boda boda riders wait for passengers in Nairobi, Kenya.

Boda boda riders wait for passengers in Nairobi, Kenya. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Scientists studying the risk of Covid-19 infection between boda boda riders and passengers in Uganda and Rwanda are advocating for use of plastic shields on motorcycles to combat spread.

It is already known that large and small virus-laden droplets from a sneeze or cough can pose risk. Depending on the motorcycle speed, large particles can land on a passenger while he or she may inhale smaller particles.

The new study titled “Exposure Risk Analysis of Covid-19 for a Ride-sharing Motorbike Taxi” released on November 19 showed that droplets ejected through a cough from a driver were carried towards the passenger by air flow.

“We found that a shield placed between the riders blocks particles and also alters the flow field around the riders, pushing droplets away from the passenger and reducing airborne exposure. This eliminated the risk of inhaling droplets. However, there was still some risk of droplets landing on the passenger’s helmet or clothes,” said Dr Amirul Khan, a lecturer at the University of Leeds’ School of Civil Engineering.

Boda boda riders in Uganda, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Vietnam and Indonesia were banned from working for many months due to the risk of airborne virus exposure for passengers.

“Early in the pandemic a few motorbike taxi drivers in countries like Uganda fitted their own screens to protect passengers in the hope they could carry on working. However, the governments did not encourage this practice as there was a lack of evidence on their impact.


“Our research now provides that evidence and, if implemented, this approach can reduce exposure risk for passengers from both Covid and other similar airborne viruses that emerge,” said co-author of the study, Dr Zia Wadud, an associate professor at University of Leeds, Institute for Transport Studies and School of Chemical and Process Engineering, said.

According to lead scientist, Rory Hetherington, “With vaccination rates still very low in many of these countries where motorbike taxis are used, it is vital that evidence-based safety measures are put in place to allow people to work and travel as safely as possible.”

The research was funded by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund and is part of a wider on-going project on COVID risk trade-offs in different forms of transport being led by Dr Wadud at the University of Leeds.