Starting Monday, riders of public transit and taxis in London-Middlesex must mask-up.
Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s chief medical officer of health, made the announcement in early July in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU)’s mandatory mask policy is put in place for higher-risk businesses where close contact cannot be avoided, as well as on public transit.
The order, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, will mandate businesses that provide direct face-to-face service less than two metres away from a customer for more than 15 minutes — for example at hair and nail salons — ensure everyone involved wear masks.
The health unit says “a separate order will require riders of public transit to wear a mask while onboard.”
Mackie noted that it was important to give people enough time to acquire masks, which is why the order did not immediately come into effect.
The policy is not required for children under the age of 12.
Penalties for non-compliance can be as high as $5,000 for an individual or $25,000 for a business.
Andre Fournier, the president of ATU Local 741, the union that represents London Transit Commission (LTC) drivers, told 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock on The Morning Show Wednesday that the new mandate will help drivers feel safer.
“It’s another added protection now that passengers will have to wear a face-covering when they come on.”
But Fournier says transit drivers are still feeling concerned.
“We have a bungee cord that keeps passengers (about 10 feet back) from the driver to give them some space, but the city has been coming down on LTC that the front of the bus is empty and the back is packed, (so) they’re moving it six feet ahead, getting rid of the cord and just having a yellow line on the floor,” Fournier says.
“We want passengers to know (there is a) yellow line but please stay as far back as you can to keep our drivers safe. Otherwise, we wont have drivers and there won’t be a transit system.”
He adds drivers cannot do anything if a passenger refuses to wear a mask, which is another major concern.
“We do not enforce it what-so-ever. … If someone crosses the yellow line, (the driver) would have to ask them to step back, and if they don’t, we’ll have to pull the bus out of service and we’ll have to call an inspector.”
Hasan Savehilaghi, the CEO and president of Yellow London Taxi, says it’s unclear whether taxi drivers can mandate the rule around masks.
“We do not have proper instructions on how to make any mandatory rules. … We do not know what is our mandatory, what our drivers can do and what our drivers cannot do if people resist and don’t want to wear a mask and still force their way into a cab.”
Savehilaghi says all taxi drivers will be wearing a mask and will be allowed to refuse service to passengers, but it’s unclear what they can and cannot do if unmasked passengers refuse to leave.
On Friday, Dr. Mackie announced a similar mandate that began a few hours later at 12:01 a.m. Saturday — a mandatory mask policy has been effective in “specific circumstances.”
“We’re not talking about all public spaces. We’re not even talking about business or back-office environments where there’s no public access,” Dr. Mackie explained during a news conference on Friday.
“This is really about those environments where, in spite of our best efforts, someone else may violate our two-metre bubble. So, where there’s public access and an indoor environment — that’s where this masking instruction would apply.”
Mackie says he’s also recommending that municipalities issue their own temporary mask bylaws. Such a bylaw will be put before London councillors next week.
Adults and children 12-years-old and older without a medical condition that may prohibit them from wearing a face-covering must wear one.
Children ages two to 12 are highly recommended to wear a face covering, but Mackie says it’s up to the parents to decide.
Mackie adds there is “no requirement for anyone to provide proof of exemption.”
-With files from 980 CFPL’s Jacquelyn Lebel
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