North East leaders call to keep rules on wearing face coverings on transport
Leaders from across the North East have today written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask him to keep face covering rules in place on public transport after ‘Freedom Day’.
They want the legislation to remain in place from Monday, July 19, with the plea also sent to Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Leaders support the Government’s aim to reopen the economy, but believe a more cautious approach is needed on face coverings, given the high levels of coronavirus in the North East
They are concerned elderly, vulnerable and anxious people want to start using public transport again, but will feel unable to because they are worried about being among strangers without the protection of face coverings.
They say compliance with the rule is already falling, with the anxiety of not wearing them to also have an impact on transport staff.
The requirement on the Metro will be retained as stated in the Conditions of Carriage, with customers to be encouraged to comply unless exempt.
Transport authorities outside London do not have jurisdiction over buses and rail services, so unless the Government puts in place a national requirement through legislation, the region’s leaders say a confused picture will emerge where passengers will be expected to act differently across the country.
Councillor Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, is chairman of the North East Joint Transport Committee, which represents his council alongside Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham.
He said: “We really need the government to get a grip and sort out the confusion.
"We are doing everything we can locally to manage the situation by keeping the requirement to wear a face covering on the Metro.
"We are also trying to co-ordinate with our bus operator partners.
"We will use all communication channels available to us to encourage continued hand sanitising, social distancing, and the need for people to act responsibly and look after anxious and vulnerable people by wearing face coverings in busy places.
"But only the national government has the ability to send a clear and unambiguous message to everyone in society that the social and moral obligation to wear a face covering on public transport is backed up by the law.
"Public transport should be accessible to everyone in society, and encourage people out of their cars – this will achieve the opposite.”
Huw Lewis, Customer Services Director at Nexus, said the network supported the call.
He added “We are all expected and recommended to keep wearing face coverings in busy indoor settings, including shops and on public transport.
"We will be encouraging customers to follow this advice when making journeys and we will have extra teams out on Monday to talk with customers about why that’s the right thing to do for everyone.
“We have made wearing face coverings part of Metro’s Conditions of Carriage, unless you are exempt, and we will use that as a base to encourage people to do so in busy spaces.
“It has never been a legal requirement to wash hands regularly, but we’ve all been doing that and we should take the same approach to face coverings.”