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Masks to remain compulsory on city's transport

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-07-15 09:22
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People wearing face masks walk through ticket barriers at a train station in London on Wednesday. The city's mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said masks will continue to be mandatory attire for people using the city's transport network after July 19. [MATT DUNHAM/AP]

No let-up when virus remains a cause for concern, says London's mayor Khan

London mayor Sadiq Khan says the wearing of face masks will remain compulsory on the city's transport network even after lockdown measures are eased across England on July 19.

Government guidance is that masks will not longer be mandatory, but that people should "exercise personal responsibility", and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he is "very relaxed" about airlines, train companies, and bus operators imposing their own rules about COVID precautions.

Now Khan has said he is "not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city's recovery, at risk", and he has instructed the capital's public transport operator, Transport for London, or TfL, that mask wearing should be "a condition of carriage".

"By keeping face masks mandatory, we will give Londoners and visitors the reassurance and confidence to make the most of what our city has to offer, while also protecting our heroic transport workers and those who may be vulnerable and rely on the network to get around our city," Sky News quoted him as saying.

"It's an extra layer of protection on top of TfL's world-leading enhanced cleaning regime-and I'm sure Londoners will continue to do the right thing as they have done throughout the pandemic, and continue to wear a face covering on TfL services."

Enforcement officers, whose usual job is to check that people on public transport have valid tickets, will continue with their additional duty of checking that people are complying with the rules about mask wearing.

"We know from the government's own advisers and from the World Health Organization, that wearing a face covering indoors does reduce transmissions," Khan told the BBC.

"It leads to greater public safety and greater public confidence as well.

"As long as the virus is still with us, and as long as we're still concerned about the virus being transmitted, we will make it compulsory."

According to TfL's own figures, during the past year almost 212,000 people were stopped and asked to wear a face mask before being allowed on a service. Nearly 14,000 people were refused permission to board and 3,200 were ejected. In addition, since mask wearing rules came into force last summer, 4,300 fixed penalty notices have been handed out.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the rules have been stuck to by most passengers, but that trade unions representing frontline transport staff are concerned about the potential for confrontations involving some passengers over mask wearing, following the change of government rules.

The leader of the RMT union, which represents railway workers, warned that what he called a "botched and confused" approach to the wearing of face coverings was exposing his staff to the threat of violence.

"Whilst we welcome the approach from the London mayor this morning, which is consistent with the policies currently adopted in Scotland, Wales and on Eurostar," union general secretary Mick Lynch told ITV News, "we now have the ludicrous position where a passenger traveling through London will have different rules on the tube and the mainline services."

Usage of the London Underground network is currently around 40-45 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while on the bus network, passenger numbers are around 60-65 percent.

With London's hugely lucrative international tourism market still so quiet, the mayor's office hopes that this summer the tourist trade will come from locals, which will mean the transport network could become busier than it has been for a while, just around the time that lockdown measures ease, with the school holidays beginning soon after.

Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, said he would not rule out making masks compulsory on public transport in his region, but had not yet made a final decision to avoid adding to public confusion.

Scotland is subject to different rules from England, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that even after the target date of Aug 9 for relaxing all rules, "we will continue to require some baseline measures such as face coverings".

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