As air pollution levels drop 70% thanks to the lack of traffic caused by the Coronavirus crisis, eNGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) and the Bicycle Advocacy Group (BAG) urge the government to add walking and cycling on top of their list of recommended means of mobility.

Walking is one of the main contributors to total physical activity across all age groups, contributing between 26-42% of total physical activity. Confinement, often in overcrowded accommodation with little access to green spaces, and particularly during times of anxiety, creates huge health risks. Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, several cancers, dementia, and diabetes. Many sports and gym-based exercise have become impossible, however walking and cycling can be compatible with social distancing. Other countries are already heavily promoting cycling during the Corona Virus pandemic, leaving bicycle shops and repair services open as essential

One of the many effects of the pandemic has been significant reductions in emission levels in many cities, as cars remain off the roads. Medical sources have even speculated that in certain countries, the death toll from Coronavirus could be partially offset by fewer people dying as a result of air pollution.

Cycling gives the double benefit of fresh air without the risk of over-close proximity to others. Bikes allow people to avoid crowded bus stops, maintain isolation and at the same time provide important respite from being indoors.

So why not cycle? Most trips are in the range between 2 and 5 km and spring temperatures are ideal for cycling, while it was never as safe as now to cycle.

With more than a third of trips under 2 km, and more than 60% of them less than 5 km, theres is a huge scope for many more one-person bike trips. An untrained cyclist takes some 10 minutes for a 2 km bike trip, around 15 min for a 3 km bike trip.

However to convince the public to cycle, government has to take the lead now together with experienced partners like bike dealers and bike rental companies and expertise of NGOs. Rental bikes are lying unused in many central locations. Companies could boost dwindling profits by renting out existing bikes long-term to individuals or companies for a symbolic charge as their contribution to fight Covid 19.

The eNGOs urge Ministries and companies to hand out free vouchers for bike rentals to their employees and to acquire bikes and pedelecs themselves. To make cycling attractive, government needs to designate bike lanes on main thoroughfares in conjunction with experts from BAG.

Government should use the coronavirus crisis to make cycling easier, so people can avoid crowded bus stops and and possibly reduce cross-infection from the use of public transport. Cities abroad are already taking steps to rapidly paint bike lanes on their roads in order to promote bicycle use, recognizing that at one stroke, people are distanced during transport, making them healthier and more likely to be able to resist respiratory infections like Covid-19.

This is the time for action which would benefit Malta long-term, helping to reduce obesity and improve health as well as reducing the rate of car use and pollution even after the crisis is over.

Article on the Times of Malta