Face masks to remain compulsory on London tube, trains and buses

Passengers must cover their faces on all public transport, even after restrictions are lifted in England on July 19

A woman wearing a face mask and holding a cup looks on at the Vauxhall tube station amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Face masks will remain compulsory for passengers on London’s transport network despite the UK government’s decision to lift Covid-19 restrictions in England from next week.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Wednesday that he was not prepared to put the city's pandemic recovery at risk by removing another layer of protection against the disease.

Face masks have been mandatory across Transport for London (TfL) services, which include the tube, bus, tram and rail networks, for the past year to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The services are the responsibility of the mayor.

Those who refuse to wear a mask currently face a minimum fine of £200 ($277).

The legal requirement to wear a mask will be lifted in England from July 19, along with social distancing restrictions.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been criticised by scientists for making face coverings voluntary, said people could still choose to wear them on a crowded train.

But Mr Khan said the “simplest and safest option would have been for the government to retain the national requirement" for people to wear 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 TfL to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services," he said.

"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.

"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.”

The UK government is attempting to make people responsible for decisions regarding their health.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was not surprised by TfL’s decision to make face coverings compulsory.

“We do expect individual carriers to put in place what is appropriate for their network,” he told Sky News.

“Crowded commuter trains may well want to have [masks] for a condition of carriage."

Passenger numbers on tube trains are between 40 and 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while on buses the figure is between 60 and 65 per cent.

Mr Khan said wearing mask was "the most unselfish thing you can do".

"On top of it being the most unselfish thing you can do, wearing a face mask can make you less likely from contracting the virus yourself," he said.

Up to 400 enforcement officers will be patrolling the London transport network to ensure people are wearing masks.

TfL will “run targeted operations and will refuse entry to people not wearing masks” and “ask people to leave services for failure to comply".

The mayor will also “put appropriate measures in place” to ensure masks continue to be worn in taxis and private hire vehicles by both drivers and passengers.

Mr Khan's decision could be just the first of many local authorities who decide to break from the government's voluntary policy.

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham earlier this week criticised the government's mixed messaging on face masks.

He said he would be encouraging people to wear them on public transport but he is unable to enforce the policy.

The move to remove the mask mandate has increased concern among scientists who have given warnings that the decision has been made too quickly and could lead to a sharp increase in infections.

Prof Peter Openshaw, who advises the government about viral threats, said on Tuesday that masks "greatly reduce transmission" of Covid-19.

He told the BBC it was difficult to leave it up to a person's judgment when "it is not only protecting yourself but also protecting other people".

Updated: July 14th 2021, 8:13 AM