Face Masks on Public Transport?

Recently, the NSW Government has grappled with the question of whether or not to make face masks or coverings compulsory on public transport. At this stage they have made the decision not to require masks or coverings, just to strongly recommend it. Despite this, there are loud calls to make them mandatory in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on public transport.

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Should face masks be compulsory on Public Transport? – Shuttershock
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Signage on the exterior and interior of the bus now encourages wearing a face mask – Transport NSW Blog Collection

Transport for NSW has implemented a large suite of measures in an attempt to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading on public transport. (You can read about those here and here.) Despite implementing these measures, one measure that has been commonly enforced both overseas and in other Australian state is the mandatory wearing of face mask on all services. Initially medical advice did not suggest that wearing face masks was an effect measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but we now know that wearing a face mask significantly reduces the chance of COVID-19 transmission. In May, former Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said wearing masks on public transport “is not an unreasonable thing to do”. Despite this we have continually seen advice from Transport for NSW that suggested masks were unnecessary.

The evidence is now clear in saying that by wearing a face mask, we can reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. NSW Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have both updated their advice and now recommend healthy people wear a mask in public where there is widespread transmission and/or in places where physical distancing is difficult. This includes on public transport.

Based on this updated advice, Transport for NSW now states that  “Face masks are strongly recommended on public transport” based on the updated advice from NSW Health. They have rolled out a new advertising campaign with a focus on wearing a face mask on public transport, with posters and signage appearing at stations, wharves and on buses this week.

What is notable about this new advice is the key emphasis across all messaging is that this is a ‘recommendation’ rather than a requirement. Anecdotal evidence suggests that less than a third of all passengers on services are wearing a mask, with many passengers also failing to adhere to social distancing requirements. In addition, many customer facing staff are also not wearing masks, despite Transport ‘supposedly’ providing staff with sufficient face masks to wear during their shifts. This makes a mockery of the new recommendations and demonstrates the lack of commitments to mask wearing at Transport for NSW.

It is clear that by not mandating face masks on public transport, the risk of COVID-19 transmission on Transport for NSW services is elevated. Only time will tell if the current stance is the correct one. What do you think? Should face masks be mandatory on public transport?

Transport NSW Blog endorses the use of face masks on public transport based on the prevailing medical advice from NSW Health and the WHO. We would like to advise that this article is not a substitute for medical advice and the author of this article has no medical training. 

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