Monday marks ‘Freedom Day’, the moment when Britain casts off the shackles of not being able to go down China White’s and, um, pretty much carries on as we were. The remaining pandemic legal restrictions will be dropped, to be replaced with personal responsibility. And having watched the scenes at Wembley this weekend, that can only go well… But one place we won’t be able to make our own minds up will be the underground. Mask-wearing will remain compulsory for the foreseeable future.

With Work From Homing tapering off over summer the tube, which has been gradually filling since April as offices return to in-person working, is expected to return to something like pre-pandemic levels of grimness. The 8am ritual of wedging your face into the smelliest armpit on the Northern Line will once again become a reality, and with the current wave of Covid sweeping the nation not expected to peak until August, even the most strident of covid-sceptics might be feeling a bit nervous about riding the tube.

The government has passed its power to individual bus and train companies to decide how and when to insist on mask wearing, and TFL yesterday took this new power and decided that underground travel would indeed require travellers to wear a mask while on the underground.

I have decided to ask TfL to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services when the national regulations change...

London mayor Sadiq Khan has previously argued for face coverings, and yesterday said “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. This is why, after careful consideration, I have decided to ask TfL to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services when the national regulations change.”

The mayor also added “I’m sure Londoners will continue to do the right thing as they have done throughout the pandemic, and continue to wear a face covering on TfL services.”

Curiously, however, national rail companies operating in London have not insisted on mask wearing...

Curiously, however, national rail companies operating in London have not insisted on mask wearing. Which, in context, probably makes sense given that a person travelling alone in a Southern Railways carriage between Bognor Regis and Littlehampton should mask-up, while a packed coach between Balham and Victoria could be a little less safe.

Which means that Londoners will be able to ride into Waterloo without face covering but potentially then have to fish out a mask to walk across the concourse to the exit.

Meanwhile most airlines have made mask wearing a condition of carriage, as has the Eurostar which will insist on mask wearing from the moment passengers check in at St Pancras.

Londoners will be able to ride into Waterloo without face covering but potentially then have to fish out a mask to walk across the concourse to the exit...

Of course, the tube has always been a breeding ground for all sorts of diseases and we should have probably been wearing masks long before the pandemic. Given how killer flu season is there’s even an argument for making mask wearing mandatory in a post-covid future.

But perhaps it also underlines how conditions on the underground make it particularly dangerous. The Central Line routinely hits 35 degrees and much-promised aircon is still to arrive. Meanwhile the volume of customers makes social distancing completely impossible, and yet TFL have cut the number of services. This is something else that could be looked at. Mask wearing is helpful, but it’s only part of the picture when it comes to keeping Londoners safe.


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