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Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Face Masks Mandatory on Transportation in Canada and U.K.

As countries attemtp to return to some normality, and in light of new World Health Organization guidance, Canada and the U.K. are making the wearing of face coverings mandatory for people using public transportation.

To reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, Transport Canada and the Canadian transportation industry have implemented a layered system of measures, such as increased sanitization, health checks for passengers, and allowing passengers to remain in their vehicles on ferries. However, there are still points in the transportation system where workers must be in close proximity to co-workers and travellers.

The Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, has therefore announced he is expanding the requirements for the use of face coverings by workers and others involved in the transportation system, to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

This approach for workers complements recent regulations and guidelines for passengers to use face coverings in certain circumstances when travelling by air, marine and rail to reduce the risk of the virus transmission. It also puts in place a more a comprehensive approach for face coverings that strengthens the protection of everyone involved in the transportation system.

The measures will be implemented through a combination of mandatory orders and guidance:

Aviation

  • Expand the existing face covering / non-medical mask requirements beyond passengers to include some flight crew and airport workers.

Marine

  • Issue guidance recommending that all workers in the marine transportation sector have in their possession a face covering, and recommend that face coverings be worn using a risk-based approach specific to the unique circumstances of the workplace, when physical distancing cannot be maintained, and/or when local authorities require it.

Rail

  • Issue guidance requiring rail operators to notify passengers that they will be asked to wear a face covering when physical distancing of two meters from others cannot be maintained, or as requested by rail operators.
  • Provide or make accessible a face covering to all workers in the rail industry.
  • Ensure a face covering be worn by workers on a risk-based approach specific to the unique circumstances of the workplace, when physical distancing cannot be maintained, and/or when local authorities require it.

Road

  • Establish a set of practices for the use of personal protective equipment, including face coverings in road transportation (i.e., trucking, motor coach, transit), in collaboration with provinces, territories and industry.

Existing public health and good hygiene practices including physical distancing and frequent hand washing, are still the most effective methods to limit the spread of the virus.

Where physical distancing of two meters from others cannot be maintained, the use of face coverings can play a key role in limiting transmission of the virus. These measures will better protect everyone involved in the transportation system: passengers, support workers, customers, and essential transportation workers, who ensure the system continues to function.

The British government is also making it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings when using public transportation in England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can set their own rules regarding face coverings. Scotland has already indicated it is likely to follow suit and currently recommends the use of face coverings.

The U.K. guidance remains that wherever possible people should avoid public transportation and walk, cycle or drive. But as the country tentatively eases out of lockdown, transport usage has been slowly increasing, including on the notoriously overcrowded London Underground network which has seen around a 20% rise during the first week of June compared to the previous week.

The U.K. Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has now said that face coverings can provide some small additional protection to fellow passengers and can help people to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus if they are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

The mandatory wearing of face coverings on public transportation in England is to start from June 15. The same date many shops and businesses are aiming to re-open, despite concerning statistics within the last 24 hours that indicate the country does not yet have the virus under control.

The changes will be made under legislation such as the National Rail Conditions of Travel and Public Service Vehicle Regulations for buses. While the government expects the vast majority of people to comply with the changes, operators will be able to refuse travel or issue penalty fines for those who fail to wear a face covering, in a similar way to the rules on having a ticket for travel. British Transport Police will also support the implementation of these changes.

As with Transport Canada, the Department for Transport underlines that social distancing and hand washing remain by far the most important disease prevention measures. It adds though that it is now vital all passengers travelling on buses, coaches, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft should wear a face covering. The government will also be working with operators to ensure staff are provided with, and wear face coverings, where appropriate for their role.

When wearing face coverings, people should always wash their hands or use hand sanitiser before putting them on and after taking it off and it is important that people don’t touch their face covering when wearing it, where possible, to avoid hand to mask transmission of the virus.

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has made the headlines for not having enough PPE for NHS frontline workers early on in the pandemic. There are still some problems with supply, particularly for private healthcare professionals likie dentists and podiatrists who are currently having to wait monhs for delivery. With this new announcement, the government is at pains to point out that face coverings are not the same as face masks and is telling people not to use medical grade PPE masks to ensure these remain available for frontline staff.

Experts in England have called for the mandatory wearing of face coverings to be extended to anywhere outside the home, and it may be that this new order is expanded, at least to include indoor public spaces.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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