The Transport Secretary has told MPs he is “very relaxed” about public transport operators imposing their own COVID-related rules – including the use of face masks beyond 19 July.
Speaking during a Transport Committee evidence session yesterday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that individual companies could implement travel restrictions beyond the government’s final stage of lockdown easing if they wished.
He confirmed that he will not be issuing any “blanket instructions” to operators instructing them to keep COVID-safety measures in place.
The announcement by the transport secretary comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation in a live Downing Street news conference on Monday that there will be no more legal requirements on the wearing of face coverings in shops or on public transport beyond the final stage of lockdown easing.
Rules on social distancing measures, mass gathering, and more are also set to change.
The decision to remove the legal requirement to wear face coverings in public settings beyond 19 July has been met with significant criticism from unions and opposing parties – most prominently, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.
Following the Prime Minister’s address on Monday, Mr Burnham took to Twitter to question the decision regarding face masks, stating: “I struggle to see how ministers can drop the requirement to wear masks on public transport without causing real problems for some people who are dependent on it.
“Those more vulnerable to infection or anxious about it will be put in a very unfair position.
Mr Burnham also addressed the decision at length during his own press conference on Tuesday.
He confirmed that he will be working with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) over the coming days to encourage people to do the “respectful thing”.
“I will ask people to put themselves in the shoes of somebody who is going by bus to have chemotherapy [and] I will ask people to put themselves in the shoes of somebody who has a compromised immune system,” Mr Burnham said.
But Mr Shapps defended the government’s plans to remove the legal requirements on face coverings, requesting that people use “common sense and personal responsibility” as “entirely sensible”.
“We are shifting to this next phase where people use common sense and personal responsibility to decide these things and I think that is actually a sensible way forwards,” he told MPs at the committee hearing.
“If organisations require it to be a condition of carriage then I am very relaxed about that and it is up to them to do.”
Mr Shapps added: “I am not planning to issue any blanket instructions to the train operating companies because they are so different depending on the routes across the country.”
He also suggested that it would be “sensible” to wear a mask on busy trains.
“Look, if you are travelling – and I travel on all types of transport, on all types of trains – if you are travelling on the underground and it is pretty packed then wearing a face covering may well be helpful and increase confidence,” he continued.
“And standing right next to somebody, I think that is something that I’d want to do and transport operators are free to require it.”
He added: “On the other hand, if you are travelling on a pretty empty carriage at an unpopular time of day to travel for three hours on a mainline or something, then it is pretty pointless in that circumstance to be potentially sat there on your own wearing a mask.”
Featured Image – TfGM