Covid: Masks to remain compulsory on London transport

Face coverings must be worn on London’s transport network despite restrictions easing on 19 July, London’s mayor says.

Sadiq Khan said he was not prepared to put Tube, tram and other transport users at risk by relaxing the rules on face coverings.

Face masks have been mandatory on public transport for the past year to reduce the spread of the virus.

But those rules will be replaced with government guidance advising passengers to wear masks only on busy services.

England is removing most of its Covid restrictions next Monday, and while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he expects masks to be worn in crowded places, such as on a busy Tube train, their use will no longer be compulsory.

But Mr Khan has gone further and made it a condition of carriage for the Tube, bus, tram, DLR, Overground and TfL Rail.

“It is great news that regular independent testing for the virus by Imperial College has found no trace on our services, and we are now ready to safely welcome back more and more customers from 19 July as people head out to enjoy all that the capital has to offer.”

This means that, despite the easing of restrictions on 19 July, it will be listed as a condition in a legal agreement between TfL and its customers.


Sadiq Khan

image copyrightPA Media

Mr Khan said: “We know from the government’s own advisors and from the World Health Organisation, that wearing a face covering indoors does reduce transmissions.

“It leads to greater public safety and greater public confidence as well.

“As long as the virus is still with us, and as long as we’re still concerned about the virus being transmitted, we will make it compulsory.”

He said he was “confident you will see from Monday high levels of the rules being followed just like there have been since last June”.

TfL’s 400 enforcement officers will deny those without a face covering from using London transport, under the plan.

TfL staff and bus drivers will continue to remind passengers that masks are a requirement, Mr Khan said.

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London is the first English city to insist on face coverings after Covid restrictions ease.

But Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said he will not ‘”rule out” mandating face masks on public transport.

Mr Burnham told the BBC he had not yet taken the decision to mandate masks on trams in Manchester and wanted to avoid adding to people’s confusion.

And in Scotland the mandatory use of face coverings will remain in place for “some time”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, even after the country eases most of its other restrictions on 19 July.

The rules for masks apply in shops and public transport – as well as pubs and restaurants when not seated.


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Analysis box by Caroline Davies, transport correspondent


Transport for London is the first operator to say that it will make wearing a mask a condition of carriage, unless you’re exempt. This is far stronger than just guidance or a suggestion – those without will be denied travel.

The London Mayor has said that as well as suppressing the virus it is also about giving passengers confidence.

Other operators do not feel the same way – many are worried that requiring face masks will make passengers think that public transport is less safe than other indoor settings like pubs and restaurants at a time when they desperately need the numbers on board to go up.


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Woman in a mask waiting for a train

image copyrightGetty Images

The legal requirement to wear a face covering in shops, public transport and other enclosed public spaces will end on 19 July. It will be replaced with government guidance.

A government spokeswoman stressed there would be a shift from “universal government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility”.

“The guidance is clear that people are expected and recommended to wear a mask when they come into contact with people they don’t normally meet in enclosed and crowded spaces,” she said.

“It is open to transport operators to decide if they want to take further measures.”

Labour has said it is “irresponsible” to drop the legal requirement to wear masks.

The move has been welcomed by the RMT union, which represents rail workers. It said the approach was consistent with the rules that are currently in place in Scotland, Wales and on Eurostar services to the continent.

However, it said: “We now have the ludicrous position where a passenger travelling through London will have different rules on the Tube and the mainline services.”

From 2 May to 29 May 2021, 86% of TfL customers said they were wearing face coverings at all times on public transport.

Of the 14% not wearing a face covering at all times or not at all, almost three-quarters (74%) claim to have an exemption or good reason under the current regulations for not doing so, TfL research shows.

Andy Byford, London’s Transport Commissioner, said: “The transport network is cleaner than ever, with an enhanced cleaning regime, hospital grade cleaning products, widely-available hand sanitizer and UV light fittings on escalator handrails to kill viruses.

“It is great news that regular independent testing for the virus by Imperial College has found no trace on our services, and we are now ready to safely welcome back more and more customers from 19 July as people head out to enjoy all that the capital has to offer.”

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