‘Covid lottery' on Tube as face mask use falls

© Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd Facemask Enforcement

Sadiq Khan admitted that passengers faced a “lottery” of catching Covid on the Tube and buses due to declining rates of mask-wearing.

The Mayor said on Friday the Government’s decision to axe the legal requirement to wear a face covering on public transport increased the risk for commuters on increasingly busy services. Wearing a mask, though, was made a condition of carriage for passengers using public transport in London.

Mr Khan told BBC London: “I continue to lobby the Government to either make it a national requirement, so we can use the police to enforce this and issue fines, or to give us the powers to issue a by-law.

“At the moment, we are not getting the help from the Government we need. As a consequence, people who can’t keep their social distance and have to use public transport are taking a lottery with the chances of potentially catching it.”

Transport for London is upping efforts to encourage mask-wearing in recognition that “compliance is beginning to fall”.

Transport Support Enforcement (TSE) officers were out in force at Liverpool Street station during rush hour on Wednesday in a bid to remind commuters that masks must still be worn on TfL services.

But with it no longer a legal requirement, police cannot enforce mask-wearing and those who refuse will no longer be fined or prosecuted.

Siwan Hayward, TfL’s director of compliance, police operations and security, said that this has had an impact on compliance in London.

She said: “Since the Government removed the legal requirement to wear a face covering, compliance is beginning to fall. When it was a legal requirement, it’s clear that the risk of being fined or being prosecuted did drive-up the level of compliance.”

Customer research carried out between July 25 and August 21 found that 82 per cent of passengers said they were continuing to wear a mask, though TfL staff and stakeholders have noticed compliance falling below this level.

TfL employs around 500 people who enforce mask-wearing, including TSE officers, operations officers and revenue control inspectors, who usually stop fare-dodgers.

Ms Hayward said that enforcement officers make a “really huge effort” but that “you’re not going to see compliance officers everywhere all the time”.

She added: “We are also reminding customers through our announcements, through our media and marketing that it is still a requirement to wear a face covering on public transport and we are asking all Londoners to continue to do the right thing.”

With several TSE officers stationed in front of the barriers at Liverpool Street on Wednesday, the majority of passengers entered wearing a face covering or put one on when asked. Luca, one of the officers, handed out masks to passengers who did not have one and said that refusing entry was a “last resort”.

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