CoronavirusIs Not Wearing A Face Mask A Criminal Offence?

Is Not Wearing A Face Mask A Criminal Offence?


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​​Sadiq Khan has come out and has suggested that it should be an illegal offence not to wear a face mask on public transport.

He is the latest person to support the idea that people should wear face masks or face coverings in public areas, despite there being no legal requirements to do so.  

Some support his statement on the Newscast podcast, whilst others disagree with the idea.

This creates a debate about whether it should be an offence not to wear a face mask.   

Sadiq Khan a few days before Freedom Day wanting Transport for London (TFL) to enforce masks on transport. Courtesy of The Telegraph.

The Facts

Since 19th July, all covid restrictions have been eased including mandatory face masks in public areas like transport, shops and restaurants. However, businesses like Uber and Sainsburys have suggested that they would like customers to continue wearing face masks when using their services. Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, has now joined these businesses encouraging people to continue wearing masks on public transport and other public areas. But not only that, he has gone a step further by suggesting that not wearing a face mask should be an illegal offence. He said this on the Newscast podcast, where he said that he is trying to lobby the government to bring in a bylaw that would mean that the police would be able to fine people who don’t wear masks on public transport.

We are trying to lobby the government to allow us to bring in a bylaw, so it will be the law again, so we can issue fixed penalty notices and we can use the police service and the BTP to enforce this.”

Sadiq Khan on the Newscast podcast

He cited evidence that face masks make a difference in stopping the spread of the virus and were useful for those with asymptomatic infection. Since saying this, there have been mixed reactions from many across the political spectrum. Patrick Christys commented that Khan was taking a stronger stance on mask-wearing than on knife crime, and Gillian McKeith called the London Mayor mad for mentioning the idea. It has been reported that 64% of adults in the UK support the idea of people wearing face masks indoors like in public transport and shops.

Since the easing of restrictions on Freedom Day, there have been mixed reports of people wearing or not wearing masks in public spaces.  

But what is important to understand is if failing to wear a face mask should be considered an illegal offence?

We turn to our journalists to see what they think of this question.

Sadiq Khan is right to say not wearing a face mask should be a criminal offence 

Sadiq’s attention to the issue of wearing face masks highlights the needed collective and individual responsibility in continuing the fight against an endlessly mutating virus. 

Sadiq is right to say refusal to wear a face mask should be a criminal offence, solely for the reason that the introduction of the by-law legally mandates the British Transport Police (BTP) to enforce the law. The current enforcements since July 19th have been “conditions of carriage” – i.e. not legally enforceable, and therefore neither policied nor non-compliance resulting in penalties. A couple of factors unique to London provide a solid grounding for BTP enforcement; the population density of the city (highest in the UK) and migrant/foreign-born population and the increased likelihood of introduction of new COVID strains (35% of the UK migrant population is in London). Given the grievances of the past year, Londoners owe it to each other to minimise the unprecedented spreading of foreign strains in a densely populated city – which in the worse case, could become a virus breeding ground. 

Perhaps Sadiq should have led with a softer approach; Instead of stern conditions of carriage and a subsequent by-law – in effect, refusal of entry and asking to leave if a mask is not worn – London transport authorities should ensure sufficient availability of daily-use masks in public transport junctions in the interest of ensuring high compliance rates and provide necessary recycling facilities for disposal of daily masks. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), wearing masks alone is not sufficient to suppress transmissions; other measures should also be taken, for example, frequent deep cleaning of carriages. 

Sadiq is right in ensuring individual and collective responsibility, yet he would have been wise to reiterate the measures London authorities are taking too.

The cost is hardly tremendous for the UK’s wealthiest city. 

Sadiq Khan’s contribution isn’t needed

The Face mask debate has been drilled into our heads and it has become hopeless, divisive, and annoying.  

And with Sadiq Khan saying that it should be an offence for someone not wearing a mask on public transport, his contribution to this dry, over-the-top, and dull debate isn’t needed.  

He needs to tell us how he will get London back on its feet and recover from this virus.

Londoners have lost their jobs, livelihoods, and their will to live and having a mayor talking about a bit of cloth over your face is a kick in the teeth. Masks protect Londoners, which is true, but there are more outstanding issues at hand. These include the economic fallout of the virus, the housing crisis, and the skyrocketing knife crime. Those issues deserve way more attention than a bit of cloth, and Khan even said himself that 86% of Londoners have continued to wear masks after the 19th of July. So why add more fuel to this unnecessary debate when a large majority of Londoners are wearing masks anyway?

Khan isn’t a mad mayor or incompetent, especially when you compare him to other politicians like Boris Johnson.   

However, when you can speak about issues that matter, like on a podcast, and you decide to talk about a piece of cloth covering someone’s face, that is where we need to question Khan’s priorities regardless of how you think of him.  

Hamish Hallett
Hamish Hallett
Hamish Hallett is a journalist/broadcaster part of the scribe team at Common Sense. He has a deep interest in current affairs, both domestically and internationally. Hamish loves to understand what makes people tick and get to the root of today's issues. Away from the network, Hamish has a profound interest in reading books, keeping active, travailing, meeting new and exciting people and controversially having ham and pineapple on pizza.

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