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London’s mayor has said that not wearing a face mask on the Tube should become a criminal offence.
Sadiq Khan has urged the government to set in place a bylaw that would legally require face masks to be worn on public transport in the capital. He said that he hopes this measure would reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus and increase confidence in returning to the office and the West End.
Since 19 July, when Covid restrictions were eased across the country, wearing a face covering on public transport in London has been a “condition of carriage” – not a legal requirement.
This means that while Transport for London’s (TfL) 400 enforcement officers can prevent passengers from boarding public transit – or ask that they leave for failing to wear a mask – they lack the ability to impose fines.
Speaking on the BBC’s Newscast podcast, Mr Khan said: “We are trying to lobby the government to allow us to bring in a bylaw, so it will be the law again, so we can issue fixed penalty notices and we can use the police service and the BTP to enforce this.”
“All the evidence is that face masks do make a difference,” he said, citing research conducted by the WHO, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the American Centre for Disease Control. He said that face masks were particularly useful for those who have an asymptomatic infection and risk spreading it to others, adding that face masks could also decrease the chances of catching the virus.
Mr Khan said that under the national mask mandate on public transport, more than 212,000 people were spoken to about not wearing masks on London transit, and thousands of fixed penalty notices were issued.
He added that data showed that around 86 per cent of Londoners were following the rules.
Speaking about the spread of Covid-19, Mr Khan said that wearing a mask helped in “two big ways”.
“One is, of course, public safety, it reduces the transmission of the virus. And two is public confidence, and we do want people to be confident using public transport.”
“The good news is we’ve asked Imperial College to come and regularly test public transport to see if there’s Covid. And thankfully, there’s been not one example of Covid being found on public transport – at the touch points, on the surface, on the escalators.
“So public transport is safe. What gives people even more confidence is if they know people are wearing face masks.
“We need people coming back to the West End,” he said, “we want to encourage people to return to their offices.”
“They are not going to do so if they don’t feel public transport is safe.
“I’m hoping the government understands, on the issues of public safety and public confidence, we want to be able to use the law to make sure people do wear face masks in spaces where you can’t keep your social distance for obvious reasons.”
Before the mask requirement was lifted last month, Mr Khan lobbied the government to keep the current rules in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus on public transport.
While he was unsuccessful in keeping the mandate in place, when announcing the rule change, the government said that it “expects and recommends” face masks to be worn by people in crowded and enclosed areas.
Public support for mask wearing in indoor spaces remains high, with 64 per cent of adults in the UK saying they would like face masks mandates to remain in place on public transport and in shops until coronavirus is controlled worldwide.
TfL has said that compliance with face coverings remains high, but anecdotally, many passengers say they have seen a drop in the number of people wearing masks on public transport.