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DERELICTION OF DUTY: Mayor slams government’s mask decision

Jamie Driscoll has slammed the Government’s decision to lift the law making it compulsory for bus or rail passengers to wear a face covering once lockdown rules end on ‘Freedom Day’.

He was speaking alongside other regional mayors on Wednesday as it was announced that masks will still be made compulsory on several local rail services across England after Covid restrictions are eased on July 19 – including the Tyne and Wear Metro.

However, the reality is that anyone who tries to get on a Metro without a face covering will not be denied access.

While wearing a mask will continue to be a ‘Condition of Carriage’ on the network, bosses confirmed that they cannot strictly enforce the rule and would use it instead as a “base for positive encouragement”.

In London 

In London, by contrast, mayor Sadiq Khan announced that teams of specialist enforcement staff would patrol Transport for London’s services and refuse entry to people not wearing masks.

Metro operator Nexus does not have such an enforcement team and Mr Driscoll said that the job could not be left to drivers, urging the Government to step in and reverse its decision to remove the legal mandate.

Asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service whether simply encouraging passengers to keep wearing masks would be sufficient to protect people given the North East’s high Covid infection rates, the Labour mayor said:  “Every public health official says that wearing masks is going to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“We don’t have the powers to enforce things. It is entirely unreasonable to think that, whether it is Metro drivers or bus drivers, they are going to stop their vehicles, get out the cab, and start walking up and down policing these things. It is not their job.

“That is why it requires the Government to make this compulsory.

“Everybody understands, it is an easy thing to do, we are all used to it, we all have masks, it is not a big ask. It will keep people safe and it is about time the Government acknowledged the basic truth of all this and reverse their position.”

Mr Driscoll and the other mayors, including Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham, complained that they could not take action to mandate mask wearing on buses or mainline train services due to “haphazard” devolution powers – causing a potentially confusing patchwork of different rules on different modes of transport.

Calls for a U-turn

North East councils have also written to Boris Johnson calling for a  U-turn on plans to axe the legal requirement to wear masks on public transport.

The North of Tyne mayor added: “Covid is still a dangerous disease. The bodies might not still be piling high in the thousands but 213 died last week, thousands of people are suffering from long Covid, tens of thousands having to self-isolate. So the Government’s decision to abandon measures to limit its spread is a dereliction of duty.”

Earlier, transport secretary Grant Shapps backed Mr Khan’s move, telling Sky News “it is very much in line with what we expected, indeed wanted, to happen”.

He added: “Whilst we are going from this being a legal requirement to guidelines, we do expect individual carriers to make sure they are putting in place whatever is appropriate for their network.”

A Nexus spokesman indicated that passengers will still be recommended and expected to wear masks, but that someone refusing to do so would only be removed from a train as a “last resort” – for example, if they were being particularly disruptive.

Metro’s conditions of carriage, a contractual agreement between the network and its customers, also include things like not smoking or acting in an abusive or threatening manner.

Written by Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter

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