By ALLISON HORE
Facial masks on public transport are being “strongly recommended” by the NSW government to reduce community spread of COVID-19.
In a press conference on Sunday premier Gladys Berejiklian offered a “strong recommendation” for people to wear a mask in enclosed spaces including on public transport, in supermarkets, places of worship and in public spaces in areas of high community transmission. Hospitality and retail workers in customer facing roles are also being strongly advised to wear a mask.
“I want to stress it is not compulsory, but it is a strong recommendation from Health, given where we are in the pandemic, given the risk posed from Victoria and given the rate of community transmission in New South Wales,” Ms. Berejiklian said.
“Where you are in an enclosed space and you cannot guarantee social distancing, you should be wearing a mask.”
However, over the weekend photos surfaced on social media showing many commuters are ignoring the advice. One viral photo snapped at Town Hall station on Saturday morning showed commuters standing shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting for a train to Bondi Junction.
Transport for NSW responded to the photo saying it was an “isolated incident” and that social distancing measures and capacities were in place. On a Waratah train, there is a maximum capacity of 68 passengers per carriage.
But a report prepared by the NSW government, obtained by NSW Labor under freedom of information, revealed that during the morning peak, 23 percent of trains and 10 percent of buses breached social distancing regulations. For the evening peak, the proportion of trains and buses in breach increased to 28 percent and 13 percent respectively.
Ms. Berejiklian told the ABC that she was unaware of the report and had not seen the data.
NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay thinks that masks being recommended on public transport is not enough. In a press conference on Monday Ms. McKay called for masks to be made mandatory in enclosed public spaces and on public transport. She said she would support the government if they moved to make masks compulsory.
“If the Premier makes face masks mandatory on public transport, and in places of worship, supermarkets and shopping centres, I will back her. I will even do a joint press conference. It’s time for clear and decisive action,” she said.
“Wear masks. Save lives. Save jobs and keep our economy going.”
For public transport workers, commuters not wearing masks is an occupational health and safety issue. In July, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) called on the state government to issue face masks to Sydney bus drivers.
The Transport Workers Union calls on commuters to take responsibility for the health of workers. Secretary of the TWU NSW Branch, Richard Olsen, asks commuters to wear masks on public transport, “as per the NSW Government recommendations”, and to observe social distancing rules, maximum passenger limits and cordoned off sections.
“We would urge commuters when using public transport to think of the drivers and other transport workers who must come into contact with hundreds of people as they do their jobs every day,” he told City Hub.
Mr. Olsen said these rules are essential for protecting the health of public transport workers including bus drivers and train attendants, as well as other customer service staff.
“We must do everything we can to protect our frontline transport workers so they can continue to do their jobs while staying safe and healthy themselves. Wearing a mask, not over-crowding public transport and observing hand hygiene before and after using public transport is the best way to do this.”
NSW Health’s recommendations regarding face masks can be found on their website.