Face coverings have become mandatory again on public transport and in shops in England in an effort to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant.
The rules returned from 4am on Tuesday, with those who refuse to comply facing fines of up to £200.
Mask-wearing remained a condition of travel on Transport for London (TfL) buses and trains across the capital after legal requirements were dropped by the government over the summer.
Despite this, passengers had reported the number of people wearing face coverings on public transport had dropped in recent months.
Londoners who spoke to The Independent this morning largely thought restrictions on face coverings should never have been relaxed in the first place.
Vladimir George, an engineer from north London, said he hasn’t stopped wearing his masks since rules were relaxed in July.
“It’s the least I can do if it can help,” Mr George said. On people who were choosing not to wear a mask this morning, he added: “We have a prime minister who doesn’t even wear a mask. Boris Johnson doesn’t wear one. I’m not questioning his policies or politics but he has to be able to set an example.”
Kow, a university service manager, who didn’t give his surname, said it will now be difficult to get people to wear masks again. “Everyone should be wearing a mask, it’s our duty, I haven’t stopped wearing one. The government never should have stopped it to begin with because it’s going to be difficult to get people to wear it now.
“On my train here this morning, hardly anyone was wearing one, people aren’t as serious about it.”
He added that his university had been spending thousands each fortnight to provide masks for students, staff and guests entering buildings but the challenge, he insisted, is people still choose to take off the masks as soon as they enter.
“We have a duty to wear a mask, get vaccinated and help safeguard each other against the virus.”
Some public transport passengers, however, were adamant to continue not wearing a mask despite the return of the mandate and the threat of a fine for rule breakers.
One Londoner, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I disagree with it [the mask mandate]. It should be a personal choice. I don’t think there is enough evidence to suggest they are effective but there is a lot of concern around the impact of masks on mental and physical health.
“You can’t see why someone is not wearing a mask, it doesn’t go toward helping solidarity.”
University porter, Mourat Azzedine, however, said even though masks don’t provide 100 per cent protection against coronavirus, it is a social responsibility for everyone to wear one.
“It doesn’t cost anything to wear one people should just wear a mask. If the government says we should wear one to help then why not,” Mr Azzedine told The Independent.
The reintroduction of compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops comes as Iceland managing director Richard Walker, told The Daily Mail that their staff will not be policing face coverings in the supermarket chain’s stores.
“Our store teams, alongside all retail workers, have shown heroic efforts in terms of ensuring safety for customers and building back consumer confidence and it’s crucial that we stay focused on the long-term recovery of the high street,” he told the Daily Mail.
“We need to continue to encourage people to shop in stores if they feel comfortable, and I’m hopeful that the latest guidelines won’t discourage customers from doing so.”
On the new mask mandates, National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Operation Talla, assistant chief constable Owen Weatherill said: “Police forces will increase officer visibility where possible in high risk and crowded areas, such as towns and shopping centres, and near transport hubs. If officers encounter individuals not wearing a face covering on public transport or in shops, they will engage with them, explain the risks and encourage them to comply with the new rules.”
In addition to masks, passengers arriving in the UK have been told that from 4am on Tuesday they will have to take a PCR test for Covid, with the expectation they will have to self-isolate until they test positive.
All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, amid concerns that existing jabs will be less effective against the strain, which is believed to spread rapidly.
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