By Q Radio News
Face coverings will become mandatory on public transport from Friday July 10 as part of the recovery process from Covid-19, to support efforts to reduce the risk of transmission.
From this date passengers travelling on most bus, train and ferry services in Northern Ireland will be required to wear a face covering. Face coverings will also be required in public transport stations.
There will be exemptions for those who are not able to wear a face covering for health and medical reasons, and for children under the age of 13. Outdoor areas of a ferry where social distancing can be maintained will be exempt from the requirements, along with school transport.
The Executive has agreed that the cross-departmental group that has been established to consider face coverings will engage with the tour coach and taxi industry to explore extending the requirement to these transport modes.
The rule will also apply on ferries from Northern Ireland
Making the announcement, Minister Nichola Mallon said: “As we move through the Executive’s recovery plan, more and more of the economy and society is opening up. We must remember however that Covid-19 is still with us.
"We need to remain vigilant and continue to play our part in controlling the virus to protect ourselves and others.
“As restrictions on our movement are eased, the safety of passengers and staff remains my priority.
"The evidence suggests that you can reduce the risk of spreading the virus by wearing a face covering.
"That is why, with the support of my Executive colleagues and the unions, I am announcing that face coverings will be mandatory on public transport, from Friday July 10th.
“The requirement will apply to passengers and also staff in public areas who are not protected by a screen. However, there will be exemptions for those who are not able to wear a face covering for specific health and medical reasons.”
A face covering is a covering of any type which covers a person’s nose and mouth; it does not have to be a surgical face mask.
While face coverings can offer protection to others, they are not a substitute for other protective measures and it is important that people continue to follow social distancing and wash or sanitise hands regularly.
Minister Mallon continued: “We are asking you to take personal responsibility and do the right thing to protect the health and well-being of others. The fact of the matter is you can spread the virus to other more vulnerable people without even knowing you have it. By wearing a face covering you are showing your support and consideration for other passengers and staff.
“It is important to be aware that wearing face coverings will not be suitable for all members of the public and we need to be sensitive to this and know that reasons for not wearing a face covering may not always be visible.
“Advice will be available on nidirect and social media channels. Translink staff will begin preparing commuters for the requirement to wear face coverings.
“It is also important that you do not get a false sense of security about the level of protection a face covering offers. They are not a substitute for social distancing or good hand hygiene.
"While I know many will find it challenging in the coming days and weeks to keep up compliance with the rules, I want to applaud the public for their leadership. The public have done the heavy lifting and kept us all safe.
"You have been the leaders in Northern Ireland fighting Covid-19 and I am asking you to keep it up and we will beat this together.
“By acting together and thinking of each other we can reduce the risk of transmission.”
Speaking about the change in regulation, Translink Group Chief Executive, Chris Conway explained, “We understand this will be a big change for everyone and passengers will need time to adapt to the new culture.
"Over the coming week our staff will be helping people to understand the new guidance and in the initial period, we plan to give away a quantity of disposable masks to get people into the habit of wearing their own face covering.
“Working together we have come a long way through this crisis; this new measure is a further collective way we can help protect each other and travel safely together – it’s easy and it’s the right thing to do.
“Our staff will also be getting involved by wearing face coverings and helping encourage others to get onboard. In addition, we will have new signage and information on how to make your own face covering on our website and social media channels to inform and reassure passengers, so they have the confidence to use our services when they need to.
“We do hope people will comply with this new regime as this simple act could save lives if we all do it together. This will be a legal requirement under the Covid-19 Public Health Legislation; however, we hope that enforcement won’t be necessary. If it is, we will work with the relevant bodies.
“That’s not to say we can be complacent, wearing a face covering is just part of the range of measures to reduce the risk of transmission. We still need to practice the wider safety and travel advice including good hand hygiene, using contactless payments, travelling off peak and social distancing.
“We will continue to carry out regular deep cleaning of vehicles and facilities, with mobile cleaning teams out during the day. We have screens in stations and on buses and have provided hand sanitiser in all main bus and train stations.
“Translink is proud to be leading the way with this campaign to change behaviours. This next step will help to rebuild public confidence in public transport as restrictions are eased across the country and more people start to return to public transport again,” Chris concluded.