Covid: Face mask rules relax but what do workers think?

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The legal requirement to wear face masks in England to help stop the spread of Covid has now been lifted.

The government has said it “expects and recommends” people continue wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces.

But if businesses want customers or passengers to use a mask, it is now up to companies to get people to comply.

Or, more specifically, it will be their employees who will have to ask the public to wear a face covering.

Some businesses, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have said they will “encourage” shoppers to wear face coverings. Uber is making mask-wearing mandatory.

Waterstones also said it will ask people to wear masks in its book shops. However, judging by the mixed response the retailer received to its announcement, it is a hugely contentious issue.

The bus driver
“This is just another nail in the coffin,” said Taj, who has been driving buses in Yorkshire for nearly 35 years.

Face coverings were, he said, “the last safety net” for him and his fellow bus drivers but now they are being lifted, they “feel vulnerable”.

The pandemic has been dangerous for bus drivers. A recent report found that 42 staff who worked on buses for Transport for London died after catching the virus.

Taj, who did not want his surname used, says the problem for drivers is that they are in a “confined corner” of a “confined bus” and “everybody has to pass us”.

“Whether they’ve got a pass or they pay, they have got to touch the machine one way or the other so they are stood in our vicinity for five, 10, 15 seconds. If they aren’t wearing a mask, they are breathing and exhaling in that small space where we are.

“We can wear a mask, we can leave a window open, but still these are really, really worrying times for us.”

Taj said while his employer has been very supportive of its workers, there is only so much the firm or he can do.

“We said it from the beginning that we would not be able to police it because that would put us in a very difficult position. People may actually become violent.”

He wants the government to make masks mandatory for travelling on public transport.

“We are a nation that doesn’t like to be confined and imprisoned in any way, shape or form,” he says. “That’s why we think that as soon as restrictions are over on Monday we are not going to be able to get people to wear masks on buses so that’s why we are asking for the government to make it mandatory.”

His message for passengers? “We are just asking people to be mindful that we are human beings,” he said. “All we are asking is please respect our health, our safety and the health and safety of our loved ones.”

 

Agencies

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