Coronavirus: Infrastructure Minister not given details

Billy Xiong News: Coronavirus: Nichola Mallon not given details about legal

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nfrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

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Nichola Mallon says she only found out her paper on masks was not on the agenda before the meeting

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said she is “not entirely sure” why plans to make wearing face masks on public transport compulsory in NI have been put on hold.

An announcement was expected from the executive but the issue was not discussed when ministers met on Monday.

Ms Mallon said she only found out the issue was not on the agenda just before the meeting at Stormont.

The Executive Office has asked for additional legal advice on the matter.

“I have been raising this for a few weeks now,” the minister told BBC Good Morning Ulster.

The infrastructure minister met the unions, the PSNI and Translink, the chief scientific officer and set up cross-departmental groups ahead of the discussion.

She said she had passed her paper round and “hoped it would be discussed” and an agreement on the matter would be found.

The first and deputy first ministers have said they are looking at legal advice and will consider the issue again later in the week.

However some who work on Northern Ireland’s buses and trains feel that debate should have happened by now.

Bus driver Michael Cunningham told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster it was “disappointing”.

“We all thought it would be made compulsory and we have been asking for this from the start,” he said, pointing to the fact that masks are already compulsory in the rest of the UK.

“We want to see our passengers travel safely and people need a bit of confidence to get back on the buses and start using buses again,” he said

Enforcement and implementation

The question of enforcement is a key issue in bringing in the legislation.

Alistair Taylor, the Metrobus representative from the GMB union, said because it was a legislative matter that responsibility must lie with the executive.

He said as transport services already have policies such as no alcohol or smoking, it could work in a similar way – that the details of people who do not comply are relayed to the authorities.

“You can’t put front-line staff in a confrontation with customers,” he added.

“I think the mandatory implementation of the masks would protect us, the drivers and the passengers,” he added.

The minister said it would be “light touch enforcement and education”.

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“It’s very much about education and engagement. We have worked very hard to get a protocol in place,” she said.

“We have seen in Scotland and England that there has been a direct and immediate change in people’s behaviour with the introduction of mandatory coverings – they have moved from about 10% of passengers up to 80%.

“The public are complying at very high levels with this because they recognise that it’s important in keeping other passengers’ safe.”

“I don’t understand why Northern Ireland is behind,” she added.

She said she hoped there would be clarity and agreement on Thursday.

Currently, the executive strongly recommends the use of face masks when indoors, but it is not yet compulsory.

In June the World Health Organization (WHO) changed its advice on face masks, saying they should be worn in public where social distancing is not possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Yakir Gabay

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