April 8, 2020 / 12:13 PM / 3 months ago

Break for Asia's clogged capitals as coronavirus curbs traffic

MANILA (Reuters) - Strict lockdowns, school closures and curbs on commerce are giving Asia’s congested capitals rare respite from transport mayhem, as the global fight to contain the coronavirus creates a free-flow of traffic not seen in years.

FILE PHOTO: An almost empty intersection with low traffic is seen at noon on Jalan M.H. Thamrin, one of the main roads in Jakarta, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Horns have fallen silent across many Asian cities as cars, vans and motorcycles hum along highways in India, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, home to some of the world’s worst traffic jams, and its worst levels of air pollution.

Reuters journalists have captured footage of various intersections in New Delhi, Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta, contrasting previous chaos with a new calm that has followed government measures to arrest the spread of the highly contagious virus.

Seven of the 11 most gridlocked cities in the world are in Asia, according to the 2019 Traffic Index of Dutch digital mapping company TomTom, topped by Bangalore then Manila, where the average driver spends the equivalent of 10 days a year in traffic queues.

In Manila, where street snarl-ups cause an estimated $67 million in daily business losses, the city’s chronically jammed Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) thoroughfare was unusually quiet, with home quarantine measures keeping most of the city’s 3.5 million registered vehicles off the roads.

An average 400,000 of those use EDSA on a typical day, according to the transport authority, but strict lockdown laws in the Philippines - which has 3,870 confirmed cases - have slashed traffic volume by a staggering 96% compared to a year ago, according to TomTom data.

That data was compiled as Reuters crew filmed its 23.8-kilometre commute, which took just 20 minutes compared to more than two hours normally.

In Delhi, which has nearly 11 million registered vehicles, congestion was down by about 59%, due to a lockdown of the country’s 1.3 billion people. India has reported 4,789 cases

Traffic is lighter too in Jakarta two weeks into a state of emergency that saw schools close and employees encouraged to work from home. Volume was down 48% from a year ago at the time of filming on Tuesday. Indonesia has 2,738 reported cases.

Authorities in Singapore are expecting a sharp traffic reduction following closures of offices and schools, while Malaysia is seeing quieter streets in its capital Kuala Lumpur, where an average 509,000 vehicles drive on an average day.

Bangkok registered a million new vehicles last year, adding to 10 million already in use, but few were around on Tuesday, and no sign of the usual jostling between cars and motorcycles.

Thailand, which has 2,258 confirmed coronavirus cases, has closed malls and entertainment venues and is encouraging working from home, helping to cut Bangkok’s traffic on Tuesday by 31%.

Reporting by Angie Teo in Jakarta, Peter Blaza in Manila, Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok, Sunil Kataria in New Delhi, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur and Angela Johnston and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Writing by Martin Petty, Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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