With England beginning to cautiously ease the lockdown restrictions to bring back normalcy and support the economy, we can hope to get back to the way of life that we were used to, travel, resume work, and contact with people- but with some conditions.
While the government plans to open non-essential retailers and common public areas post 15th June 2020, this is expected to put additional pressure on the commonly used public transport, especially as these are spaces where it is difficult to maintain mandatory social distancing.
To meet this challenge, in his latest coronavirus briefing, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that starting 15th June 2020, face covering is going to be a ‘condition to travel’ in public transport. This order comes in the wake of UK recording over 2.82 lacs confirmed cases in total and coronavirus posing an immediate and long-term threat with no vaccines or other immediate solutions in sight. The only plausible solution seems to be self-care and lowering one’s exposure to potentially risky carriers and surfaces.
He revealed that people would be required to cover their faces while using any and all means of the public transport system. This includes buses, tubes, trains, flights, ferries, coaches, and cabs- spaces where people cant always maintain the mandatory 2-metre distance and can avoid running into people altogether.
Till now, passengers were wearing face covering on their own discretions after an advisory that was issued a month back but were not deterred from travelling in the absence of a face mask.
This face covering is not expected to be a high-end or specialised mask like the KN95 face masks, since those need to be reserved for the healthcare staff and frontline workers. Any face protection equipment including masks, coverings, even homemade options that offer some kind of protection from exposure to potential infections, would work. People can even use properly tied scarves, face shields or handkerchiefs as coverings for their faces. He also urged people to follow the other guidelines to keep themselves and their surroundings clean. These include frequent washing of hands, clothes, and their disposable masks, using a hand sanitizer before and after touching common surfaces and taking care of their health and overall wellness.
The Transport Secretary feels that this move will help those in the vulnerable categories, especially the senior population and people with any co-morbid conditions, in saving themselves from getting the infection to a large extent. This would also, he expects, encourage people to not only use public transport without being on the edge all the time but also become concerned and empatheticabout other people’s wellbeing especially when they might be possible asymptomatic carriers without having any major symptoms.
Grant Shapps also said that those not covering their face would be either denied transport or fined. As he expects the majority of people to comply with this new order, children under the age of 2 years, specially-abled people, and those having any respiratory difficulties will be exempted from covering their faces to avoid excessivediscomfort to them.
People have also been advised to avoid travelling during the rush hours and opt for work from home options. In case, they absolutely need to travel, they are being encouraged to walk, cycle, or self-drive.
Transport Secretary maintains that all of this is about making small changes to the way we travel and interact in public spaces. Incorporating these behavioural changes, he feels, will go a long way in keeping individuals safe and broadening the net of the infection. Small practices like these would also help to reduce the pressure on the already overworked health facilities and healthcare workers.