Trade Union Demands Masks on Public Transport Remain Compulsory After Lockdown Ends

Commuters wear face-masks during morning rush hour on the Victoria Line of the London Underground in central London on October 16, 2020, as the number of novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases. - Roughly half of England is now under tougher coronavirus restrictions, after the government on Thursday announced more stringent measures …
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

A major trade union has demanded that masks remain compulsory on public transport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifts the last of coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Johnson is expected to announce on Monday that he will be lifting the remaining lockdown restrictions on July 19th, after delaying ‘Freedom Day’ from June 21st, including social distancing rules and the mandate for wearing masks in indoor public settings such as shops and on public transport. Instead, Johnson will be advising Britons to “exercise judgement when going about our lives”.

In preparation for the announcement that Britons will no longer need to cover their faces, after a year of the mask mandate, Unite has said claimed that such a decision by the government would be “gross negligence” and that the “rules on mask-wearing on public transport should remain in place”.

In a press release, the union’s national officer for passenger transport, Bobby Morton, said: “The idea of personal responsibility and hoping that people will wear masks is absolutely ridiculous, members are already reporting there is an increase in passengers ignoring the rules on mask wearing.

“Until rates of Covid-19 are fully under control, throughout the whole of the UK, the rules on mask wearing on public transport should remain in place.”

City A.M. reported on Monday that face coverings could remain mandatory on London’s underground even after the prime minister lifts the legal mandate, as Transport for London (TfL) has significant powers to set the “conditions of carriage” for the underground, including wearing masks.

The London financial newspaper quoted TfL’s Transport Commissioner Andy Byford as said that while it would be “bizarre” for passengers to switch between masks on and masks off between underground and mainline trains, Mr Byford “we are going to think very carefully about this”.

The decision could be down to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, with a spokesman for City Hall saying that “it is something that we will continue to look at closely”, quoting a recent poll suggesting that nearly two-thirds (65 per cent ) of Londoners back mandatory masks on public transport.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that he would stop wearing a mask if no longer ordered to do so, adding that “we will be moving into a phase where these will be matters of personal choice.”

Cabinet colleagues Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Environment Secretary George Eustace likewise said recently that they will be ditching their masks “as soon as possible”.

Recent remarks from the new health secretary, Sajid Javid, that the country will have to “learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu” left some members of the medical establishment objecting to the prospect of the impending lifting of restrictions.

Professor Susan Mitchie, a member of the influential Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) who had claimed that Britons should be wearing masks “forever”, said: “Allowing community transmission to surge is like building new ‘variant factories’ at a very fast rate.”

NHS England’s medical director for primary care Nikki Kanani said that she will be encouraging people to continue wearing masks, while SAGE member Calum Semple, NHS national medical director Stephen Powis, and Adam Finn from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that they would continue to wear masks in certain settings.

Brexiteer and Labour activist Brendan Chilton criticised the healthcare establishment for saying people should continue to wear masks, saying: “It’s very perverse to actually want to maintain this sort of fearful society… Grannies and grandfathers being told their grandchildren could potentially kill them if they give them a hug. [It] really is quite sick.”

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