The Illusion Of Safety: UK Commuter Trains Will Leave Windows Open In Winter To Fight COVID-19

As Boris Johnson forces hundreds of bars to close as COVID-19 cases come roaring back, with hot spots in northern England leading the charge, the Telegraph reports that commuter train operators are instituting questionable new safety measures like keeping all train windows open during the winter cold to try and 'COVID-19 proof' their trains and make commuters more comfortable with the safety risk.

The news comes despite new research confirming that the virus can survive for weeks on banknotes, and that lower temperatures enhance SARS-CoV-2's chances of survival.

The UK over the weekend finally topped 600,000 cases as a surge in new cases started to wane.

But as London's commercial real estate values plummet, and downtown businesses that once catered mostly to commuters close permanently, one after the other, politicians are also under pressure to start pushing younger and healthier workers back into the office.

The director of the UK's rail safety regulator tried to reassure commuters that commuter trains are safe, and that "road is not the panacea that was originally, without justification, put out there."

Ali Chegini, a director at the Rail Safety and Standards Board, said: "Even though it’s cold, even though you have to wrap up and put woolly socks on, it’s better to keep windows open than to be exposed to the risk of infection."

He said four in every five trains had ventilation systems called HVAC, and that even if the windows do not open "moving air is better than not moving air in enclosed spaces."

Mr Chegini admitted that although the aim was not to "get everybody back on the train,” he said that: "If you need to be back at work and you've got a choice between road and rail, road is not the panacea that was originally, without justification, put out there."

UK government scientists have determined that COVID-19 spreads fastest at 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 Farenheit), and that has been their position since July.

A senior member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said Covid-19 “likes” four degrees best - “it survives well at four degrees [celsius]”.

Scientists are also understood to be increasingly confident that countries with temperate climates and with relatively severe flu seasons, such as Britain, will also be affected worse by Covid-19 in winter.

The maximum capacity of trains has dropped by between 45 and 50 per cent, with social distancing rules driving a loss in ticket revenue estimated at £700m a month.

The maximum capacity of trains has dropped by between 45% and 50% as social distancing rules propel a staggering loss in ticket revenue estimated at £700 million a month. Still, opening windows is a better strategy for cleansing trains of the virus than running air conditioning units that may or may not take in air from the outside.

Earlier this year, experts told the Telegraph that air conditioning units that do not have a "dedicated source of outside air supply into a room… could be responsible for recirculating and spreading airborne viral particles into the path of socially distanced users."

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, a fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said that even when using air conditioning units opening a window would be the best way to mitigate risk of infection.

Huw Merriman, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, said: "Hospitality and leisure businesses in cities are dying because we have not got commuters. Commuters are a hardy, stoic bunch, but we are also considerate. You only get confidence if you are realistic with the rule set and then people aren't seen to breach anything."