People travelling on Merseyrail will be asked to continue to wear face masks from this week despite them no longer being compulsory, amid rising COVID cases in Liverpool city region. Tony McDonough reports
People travelling by train in Liverpool city region are being urged to continue to wear face masks despite them being no longer mandatory from this week.
Despite soaring cases of COVID-19 across the UK the Government has said most of the final lockdown restrictions, including the compulsory wearing of face coverings at indoor venues and on trains and buses, have ended on Monday, July 19.
However, the Government guidance urges people to continue to wear face coverings on public transport and in bars, restaurants and other venues. Last week the Liverpool Health Protection Board advised the wearing of masks should continue and the managing director of Merseyrail, Andy Heath, agrees.
He said: “From Monday, July 19, the majority of lockdown restrictions will come to an end and face coverings will no longer be a legal requirement on public transport. However, we do expect passengers to follow Government guidance and wear a face covering in crowded spaces out of respect for others unless exempt.
“As we have throughout the pandemic, we will continue to do as much as we can to keep our staff and passengers safe by extensively cleaning trains and stations throughout the day using specialist cleaning products.”
A new survey of 120 businesses carried out by the Liverpool BID Company found that 57% of respondents say they disagree with mask-wearing becoming a personal choice in enclosed spaces and on public transport. It also found 33% agreed with the move while 9% were unsure.
The survey also revealed74% say they think more restrictions will be brought back in after September, with just 15% think they will not. 48% say they agree with restrictions on social distancing and limits on group sizes being dropped, with 40% saying they disagree.
Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company, said: “What we’re going to end up with is a piecemeal, confusing and haphazard approach that will leave people feeling less safe, see infection rates skyrocket and see long term health risks exposed. Our message from the start has been to support business, especially around reopening, but it is vital with infection rates so high that we do so safely and cautiously.
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has accused the Government of “not following the science” when it comes to face coverings and is warning that dropping the rule will put lives at risk.
Speaking at an event in Liverpool organised by the Liverpool branch of the Institute of Directors, both Mr Rotheram and his Greater Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham said the Government was wrong not to continue to mandate face coverings on public transport.
“In the last few weeks the infection rate in the Liverpool city region has risen from just 10 per 100,000 people to more than 500 per 100,000 people. Doubling time is getting shorter and that should worry us all. If the Government is following Tory backbenchers instead of following the science then that is a disgrace.”
Under the current devolution deal Mr Rotheram does not have the power to mandate face coverings on the Merseyrail network. However, Mr Burnham does have the power to insist masks are worn on Greater Manchester’s trams and says the rule will remain in place this week despite the national changes.
“We believe everybody who travels on the network has a collective responsibility to each other so face coverings will remain mandator on the trams. I think if we did not do that then we would lose a lot of customers because many vulnerable people would be afraid to travel.”
There is also concern among businesses that the number of people having to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the COVID app after coming into contact with an infected person was likely to have a crippling effect on many businesses.
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber, said it was important the Government continued to offer “a range of nuanced measures to support those sectors which will need it most”.
“The delay to lockdown easing was greeted with pragmatism by many local businesses but they will be pleased that the day has finally come where we can look forward to the full reopening of our economy,” said Mr Cherpeau
“Hundreds of thousands more vaccines have been rolled out during this period and for the sake of businesses and the rest of society, we must hope this achievement means that easing is now irreversible and we are not required to countenance further restrictions in the future.
“Of course, the challenges for Liverpool businesses will not simply disappear after July 19, which is why it is important to follow the extra guidance of the recent Health Protection Board statement to mitigate risk wherever possible.
“For sustainable economic recovery to become a reality, particularly in sectors such as hospitality and leisure, it is important that the Government continues with a range of nuanced measures.
“More broadly, as the furlough scheme is phased out and repayments become due for bounce-back loans, the Government must adopt a similarly reasonable and flexible approach to that which many businesses have been asked to adopt over the last 18 months and show that we truly remain in this together for the long-term.”