Smart Transport

Face masks mandatory on public transport to tackle Omicron variant

Female passenger on a train wearing a white face mask

The Government is to make face masks mandatory on all public transport from November 30 as part of measures to limit the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

A face mask or face covering must be worn by everyone travelling on buses, trains, aircraft and ferries. However, young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties will be exempt from the rules.

Face coverings are to help prevent an infected person or those that are asymptomatic (someone that is carrying the virus and may not know it yet) from spreading it more widely to other people, rather than offering protection to stop the person wearing the face covering from contracting COVID-19 themselves.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the rules over the weekend after putting travel restrictions in place for some African countries.

He said: “We need to slow down the spread of in the UK.

“Measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant, rather than stop it altogether.

“...To help contain the spread of this new variant we are tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.”

The arrival of a new Covid-19 variant will come as a further blow to local transport authorities that had been starting to recover ticket revenues as more passengers had started to travel on public transport.

It's likely these new measures will have an impact on increased levels of transport distancing with some members of the public.

Many transport authorities continued to mandate face coverings even after restrictions were lifted in July this year.

At the time Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I’ve repeatedly made clear that the simplest and safest option would have been for the Government to retain the national requirement for face coverings on public transport.

"I’m not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk. This is why, after careful consideration, I have decided to ask Transport for London (TfL) to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services when the national regulations change."

TfL had said that the vast majority of its enforcement work over the past year had involved stopping people from getting on public transport services until they put on a face covering, with most complying by getting their face covering from their bag or pocket, putting it on correctly or purchasing one from a nearby shop.

It said "only in a small percentage of cases have Fixed Penalty Notices needed to be issued to those refusing to comply".

TfL had seen more people returning to using public transport, with Tube ridership at around 40% to 45% of pre-pandemic levels and bus ridership at around 60% to 65%.

Confidence in travel had also risen, with 60% of people overall and 76% of people who have travelled during the summer saying they were confident doing so.

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