London, Jul 14 (PTI) The UK is headed for a mixed bag of rules on face masks in enclosed spaces, as protection against the spread of coronavirus, after London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Wednesday that they would remain a mandatory requirement on public transport in the city.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said face coverings would no longer be a legal requirement in England from next Monday when lockdown restrictions are lifted, but that people would be expected to wear them in enclosed spaces.
He has come under criticism for this decision from scientists and medics, who want the rules for compulsory face coverings to stay in place beyond July 19 as infection rates from the Delta variant of COVID-19 remain high.
“I’ve repeatedly made clear that the simplest and safest option would have been for the government to retain the national requirement for face coverings on public transport. I’m not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk,” said Khan.
“This is why, after careful consideration, I have decided to ask TfL [Transport for London] to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services when the national regulations change.
'By keeping face masks mandatory we will give Londoners and visitors the reassurance and confidence to make the most of what our city has to offer, while also protecting our heroic transport workers and those who may be vulnerable and rely on the network to get around our city,” he said.
TfL falls under the mayoral jurisdiction for the British capital and Khan's move has been backed by the city’s authorities and businesses.
“This is the right call. Keeping masks on London’s public transport network in the short-term is a sensible and proportionate measure as the country unlocks, which our members tell us will boost their employees’ confidence,” said John Dickie, Chief Executive of London First, a business group for the city.
Meanwhile, Wales updated its lockdown plans on Wednesday and in line with the devolved regions of Scotland and Northern Ireland, has decided to keep the mandatory requirement for face masks in place.
“Face coverings will continue to be required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport, with the exception of hospitality settings,” Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had said on Tuesday that the mandatory use of face coverings will remain in place for 'some time'.
A UK government spokesperson 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,' the spokesperson said.
The Opposition Labour Party has said it is 'irresponsible' to drop the legal requirement to wear masks.
Meanwhile, around 1,200 scientists, including members of the government’s Scientist Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), have urged Boris Johnson to pause a complete end to all legal lockdown restrictions from July 19, warning the decision to unlock is 'unethical'.
Writing in ‘The Lancet’, they accused the government of pursuing an 'unscientific' policy of 'herd immunity by mass infection'. Several doctors’ associations have also been mounting pressure on the government to keep the requirement of face coverings a legal requirement.
But the government's stand is that with vaccinations now at an accelerated pace, this is the best time to unlock the economy ahead of the winter months when the deadly virus would have an 'advantage'.
Therefore, most parts of the UK are set for eased lockdown rules from next Monday, with a variation of requirements on face coverings now expected in different parts of the country.
The coronavirus has killed 128,748 people, along with 5,210,616 confirmed infections, in the UK so far, according to Johns Hopkins University. PTI AK IND AKJ IND