| 12.3°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Face masks should be worn on NI public transport, says minister

But use not compulsory

Close

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon at a Translink depot earlier this year

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon at a Translink depot earlier this year

PA

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon at a Translink depot earlier this year

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said face coverings should now be worn on public transport, but will not be compulsory.

Her comments follow an announcement from the Stormont Executive that the public should consider covering their face in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible.

“The recommendation that the public should consider the use of face coverings in enclosed spaces clearly applies to public transport and has been taken on the balance of evidence and in the best interests of public safety," the minister said.

"It is important we recognise that and do all we can to encourage people to follow this advice."

Trade union Unite welcomed the announcement but said the use of face masks should be compulsory for the public to protect workers.

Unite deputy regional secretary Davy Thompson said: “It is not enough for the minister to recommend the public wear face masks on buses and trains – we need to see them made compulsory. Our drivers’ lives and those of fellow travellers are at stake – we need every possible protection.

It is absolutely essential that we get a common approach in both jurisdictions. Davy Thompson, Unite.

“We are also concerned that if there is a different approach taken north and south drivers and inspectors on cross-border services could be placed in the invidious position of having to police different infection control regimes as the vehicle crosses the frontier. It is absolutely essential that we get a common approach in both jurisdictions on this island.

“Facemasks alone are not enough to protect passengers and our members – we need to see social-distancing secured through additional funding of public transport services," Mr Thompson concluded.

Nichola Mallon said, as the evidence on face coverings was not conclusive, passengers won’t be turned away if they are not wearing face masks.

She also warned that wearing face coverings should not lead to a false sense of security and that social distancing will still be required on public transport.

right thing to do to keep people safe but it does have implications, not only for the financial viability of our services but also the capacity. Nichola Mallon

This means the passenger capacity on the Northern Ireland network is limited to no more than 15% on buses and 12% on trains.

“It’s the right thing to do to keep people safe but it does have implications, not only for the financial viability of our services but also the capacity of the network to accommodate growing demand for travel as we reopen our economy and society,” Ms Mallon said.

“I have been clear with Executive colleagues that we must ensure, including through our funding models, that Translink is properly resourced to deliver the service we need it to deliver.”

A revised timetable for bus and rail services will operate from Monday, May 11, to accommodate a recent rise in passenger numbers.

“The last week has seen a few of our larger employers re-open their businesses and, while the overall numbers using public transport remain low, this has resulted in an increase in people travelling on some of our bus and rail services. The safety of passengers and staff on our public transport network is my priority and with that in mind, I have approved a number of service adjustments.”

Ms Mallon said it was also important to cooperate with Irish services on cross-border travel.

“Each of us as an individual also has a part to play," she said.

"If you can work from home, you should continue to do so. If you must travel, try to plan your journey outside busier periods and for shorter journeys walk or cycle if you can. When the time is right to ease restrictions, I would also urge employers and businesses to support us in this regard by staggering opening and closing times to stretch the peak period.”

Important we recognise that it is only as a result of the efforts and selflessness of all Translink workers that our public transport services continue. Nichola Mallon

Translink staff that engage with the public will now be wearing face masks or shields, where it is appropriate.

“It is important we recognise that it is only as a result of the efforts and selflessness of all Translink workers that our public transport services continue to run to allow our health and social care and other key workers to access their workplace and services,” the minister said.

“I am determined to do all I can to support and protect them and have asked Translink to ensure that all of the necessary procedures and personal protection equipment continue to be in place to ensure the safety of staff.

“I would once again ask everyone to continue to stay at home to save lives and ensure that they travel only when it is essential to do so.

"I know that we have been socially restricted for an unprecedented period of time and we are all finding that challenging. However, your support in staying safe is greatly appreciated as we all play our part in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Belfast Telegraph