Covid-19 public health restrictions are the responsibility of the Scottish Government and people are still expected to wear face masks on public transport in Scotland. The UK Government’s decision on face masks, therefore, does not apply in Scotland but I do know there has been some confusion for cross-border rail passengers on what measures, such as social distancing and masks, the train providers are following.
I think that while COVID-19 continues to circulate and with infections expected to surge further, the UK Government should not have removed the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport in England. I believe it should reverse its decision.
Following its original announcement that masks would no longer be required, the Government has since said that it “expects and recommends that face coverings are worn in crowded and enclosed spaces, such as public transport”. I think these mixed messages are confusing and not the leadership the public wants.
I believe the UK Government should listen to the calls from a number of our metro mayors, as well as following the management of Transport for London, Eurostar, BA and others and put in place a continuing requirement to wear face coverings on public transport. It is not good enough for Ministers to simply leave the responsibility up to operators.
We all want to see restrictions end, but we should not have to take a high-risk approach. Face coverings ensure that everyone who takes public transport can do so safely, because wearing a mask protects others. If nobody is masked, coronavirus risk increases and we are all less safe. In addition, more than two thirds of people surveyed have said they should continue to be mandatory on public transport for a further period of time. A similar number said they would feel less safe if in a crowded or unventilated place and people were not wearing face masks.
Getting back to normal depends on people feeling safe, but I know that many are instead feeling particularly anxious. I am hugely concerned that people who are shielding, who may be immunocompromised, or for whom the vaccination is less effective, face having their freedoms curtailed because of this step. There are also many other people who suffer when masks are not required, such as those working on public transport – many of whom may be low-paid and without access to decent sick pay.
We should keep masks for now, fix sick pay and let us unlock in a safe and sustainable way.