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PM: Requirement to wear face coverings on public transport will end

Photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

The requirements to wear a face covering on public transport in England is to be scrapped despite opposition to the move.

Boris Johnson announced that the legal requirement to wear face coverings will be removed when his road map out of lockdown reaches the final stage, which is expected to be on July 19.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, the Prime Minister urged people to “exercise their personal responsibility but to remember the value of face coverings both in protecting themselves and others”.

Asked if there were circumstances in which he would continue to wear a face covering, Mr Johnson said it would “depend on the circumstances”.

He went on: “Clearly there’s a big difference between travelling on a crowded Tube train and sitting, late at night, in a virtually empty carriage on the main railway line.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons it would be “sensible” to wear a mask on a “very crowded” London Underground train.

Government officials suggested people who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus could travel on public transport at less busy times.

A YouGov survey of 2,749 British adults indicated that 71% of the public want current rules to remain in place for longer.

Some organisations could still make face coverings a condition of carriage.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said discussions are planned between Transport for London, the Department for Transport and other transport providers “before we decide our next steps”.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who is opposed to the lifting of the face covering rule, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme he had the power to continue to make them mandatory on Manchester’s tram network.

But he will not do so as “I just don’t see how we would be able to enforce it”.

Trade union Unite, which represents tens of thousands of public transport workers, claimed it would be “an act of gross negligence by the Government” to end the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport in two weeks.

Emma Gibson, director of watchdog London TravelWatch, acknowledged that “some people can’t wait to tear off their face masks” but said others will voluntarily continue to wear theirs “even after they don’t have to”.

She went on: “Last week our research showed that half are still saying that they won’t use public transport unless social distancing is in place, while 58% say they won’t use public transport unless passengers are required to wear a face covering.

“So as we approach July 19, it is really important that passengers are respectful and considerate towards each other, because many people are still very nervous about travelling.”

Prior to the announcement, easyJet and Ryanair said they had no plans to change their policy of requiring passengers to wear face coverings, stating that they are following guidelines from bodies such as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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