DPP and the Czech Academy of Sciences Will be Testing Prague Public Transport (MHD) for the Presence of the Covid-19 Virus

31. 03. 2021

The Prague Public Transit Company (DPP) and the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences (AV ČR) have recently agreed to work together on the testing of Prague public transport (MHD) for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19. In April, researchers from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences will use specially developed biosensors and air collection systems to take approximately 500 samples from buses, trams, train sets and DPP Metro stations. Both surfaces and the air inside vehicles, lobby areas and station platforms will be tested. The data collection and analysis will take one month with the results available in late May or early June.

"Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have devoted significant energy and resources to making sure Prague's public transport systems are as safe as possible. Starting a year ago March, DPP began the introduction of a number measures to improve the safety of public transport. These included more intensive cleaning of vehicles, the treatment of interiors with disinfectants, the ozonation of vehicles and the automatic opening of all doors at all stations and stops, along with more intensive use of ventilation systems and restrictions on our bus, tram and train drivers. At DPP, we have also been testing out new operating procedures and the use of protective equipment. In addition, notwithstanding the nature of the waves of the virus, we have continued throughout with our heightened level of safety measures to ensure Praguers can always safely get to wherever they need to be. I am glad to see this initiative on the part of DPP to work with the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences to conduct this first expert evaluation in the Czech Republic of the safety of Prague's public transport system”, stated Adam Scheinherr, Deputy Mayor for Transport and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of DPP.

"Foreign studies confirm the low risk or becoming infected with Covid-19 through the use of public transport systems. Unfortunately, in the Czech Republic, we often come across various experts claiming that public transport is in fact one of the most likely places in which people can become infected with the Covid-19 virus. It is unfortunate that up until now, in the Czech Republic, there has not been a credible study by medical and scientific experts to refute such misinformation. As a result, DPP has decided to work with the Institute of Physics of the AV ČR to conduct just such a study. We were inspired by what has taken place in London, where our colleagues from the Transport for London, in collaboration with Imperial College, conducted a study last autumn and again after New Years on the London Underground and buses, where they found no signs of SARS-CoV-2 in the public transport systems. We are convinced that our joint study with the Institute of Physics of the AV ČR will confirm that Prague's public transport is absolutely safe", reiterated Petr Witowski, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of DPP.

Tests will be conducted to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on the surfaces, which people come in contact with, such as vehicle poles, handrails, seating, control buttons, contactless ticket terminals and, in Metro stations, button controls, elevator interiors, escalator hand rails, stairway hand rails and various items found on Metro platforms, such as benches and information panels. To detect the virus from the air inside vehicles and in Metro stations, researchers will use a sampling device with a capacity of 80 - 160 liters per minute, which was developed for this purpose by scientists from the Institute of Physics of the AV ČR in cooperation with the MATCA National Competence Center.

"Because scientists from a wide variety of different disciplines - biophysics, optics, chemistry, advanced materials, 3D printing - joined forces, we were able to quickly respond to the needs of this area of public interest," stated Eva Zažímalová, President of the Academy of Sciences.

"We will be using a viral particle capture technology similar to that which was previously used by the experts from Imperial College conducting the London Underground study, with whom we are in consultation," explained Alexandr Dejneka, Head of Research at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences. "We are using a specially designed polymer nanobrush that captures the specific coronavirus particles contained in a liquefied sample; it ignores everything else," continued Alexandr Dejneka.

Researchers from the Institute of Physics of the AV ČR will perform tests on 150 surface locations in the interiors of buses, 150 locations in the interiors of trams, 100 in the interiors of train sets and 50 locations in the Metro in the lobbies and on the platforms of stations during April. In addition, they will sample the air in 50 locations – 10 each in the interiors of buses, trams, train sets and in the lobbies and platforms of Metro stations. In vehicles, air-sampling will take roughly 20-30 minutes, depending on the type of vehicle. In the lobbies and on the platforms of Metro stations, sampling will take about 1 hour, and thanks to powerful batteries, it will be possible to take these samples when passengers are present.  In the case of Metro train sets, surfaces will be tested immediately after the cars come back to their depots from carrying passengers. This is because there isn’t enough time to properly do the testing when the trains do their turn around at the end of each line. For buses and trams, interior surfaces will be tested at their turn-around locations. The sampling of the lobbies and platforms of Metro stations will be carried out when normal passenger volumes are present.

DPP has selected the transit lines and Metro stations to be sampled based on their service to or proximity to large Prague hospitals. For example, one location will be the Březiněveská turnoff, where tram lines 3 and 24 end. These lines serve areas around the Na Bulovce University Hospital and the General University Hospital on Charles Square, including other similar facilities as they travel through Prague. For buses, one of the sampling locations will be the Želivského Terminal near the Royal Vinohrady University Hospital which serves lines 124, 139, 150, 199 and 213. These bus lines provide service to the Thomayer University Hospital and several outpatient clinics and medical facilities in Modřany, Vršovice and Jižní Město. Train sets will be sampled at the Kačerov and Hostivař depots, and Metro lobbies and platforms will be sampled at stations near hospital facilities, such as Charles Square, Budějovická and Kačerov.

After collection, scientists from the Institute of Physics of the AV ČR will analyze the samples in the laboratories of the Biological Center of the AV ČR and those of the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice. The researchers will perform tests using special biochips.and, at the same time, do PCR control analysis and cultivation to determine the level of infectivity of suspicious samples. The test results should be available in late May or early June.

In early February of this year, researchers from the Institute of Physics of the AV ČR tested out the procedures they will be using to detect the presence of the virus on surfaces and in the air. This pilot testing included both the methodologies to be use for collection and for the analysis of collected samples. 

Contacts for more information:
E-mail: tiskoveoddeleni@dpp.cz