Mask wearing: Companies await further guidance on enforcement but Preston BID predicts it will be "business as usual" in run up to Christmas

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The Government has made it compulsory for everyone using public transport or going into shops to wear masks from tomorrow in a bid to prevent further spread of Coronavirus.

The announcement was made at the weekend amid concerns about the spread of the new Omicron variant which emerged in South Africa.

But today companies warned they have no powers to enforce the ruling, although it is expected customers will comply.

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Thomas Calderbank, Commercial Manager for Preston Bus, said: "It comes into force tomorrow ... in terms of the company we will just go back to what we were doing when it was previously mandatory. Our drivers will just be asking people to put their masks on before boarding the bus. We don't have any powers to actually enforce it...all we can do is ask them to put it on. I think generally most people are supportive. I know they were last time. We are hoping customers will respect the rule this time as they did last time."

Thomas Calderbank of Preston BusThomas Calderbank of Preston Bus
Thomas Calderbank of Preston Bus

He added that drivers sitting in their sealed cab area would not need to wear masks while driving, but would be asked to wear them while walking around the bus station or Preston Bus depot.

He said: "I think we would hope if we were having issues with a large number of people not wearing masks we would have to work with the police and (be) asking them to come and enforce it for us. When it was mandatory last time before June, generally compliance was quite high and most people respected it."

Thomas added that the comnpany is aware some people are exempted from wearing masks.

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A spokesman for Avanti West Coast which manages Preston Railway Station as well as running Avanti services on the West Coast line said: "In line with updated Government guidance face coverings are compulsory on all public transport including onboard Avanti West Coast services, unless you are exempt."

Mark Whittle of Preston BIDMark Whittle of Preston BID
Mark Whittle of Preston BID

He advised customers can check for latest announcements via the Avanti West Coast website, its Twitter account and station announcements.

Meanwhile Mark Whittle Preston City Centre BID (Business Improvement District) Manager is hopeful it will be busienss as usual in the weeks before Christmas, even if shoppers and commuters have to wear masks. He said : "As throughout the pandemic, we have no doubt that city centre businesses will do what is asked of them to keep their customers and team members as safe as possible. When last wearing a mask was deemed ‘compulsory’, overwhelmingly, people visiting the city centre did what the Government asked of them in order to play their part in helping to reduce overall transmission of the virus.

"Stores will, as much as practically possible, promote and encourage the wearing of masks within their premises, as directed by the Government.We don’t doubt that businesses will continue to do follow the guidance in order to help reduce the spread of transmission. "

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But he warned that if further restrictions are introduced businesses will need extra support. He said: "Businesses on the high street especially, have been the hardest hit throughout the pandemic and should further restrictions become necessary, at any point in the future, then they must be supported effectively, quickly, and practically. We believe that it will be very much ‘business as usual’ as we lead up to Christmas. Around this time last year Preston was in the tiered system – nobody wants to see those type of restrictions again. We will continue to work within the issued guidance to ensure that we can enjoy a happy Christmas period, both in business, and as members of the community."

Avanti West Coast services - all passengers will be asked to wear masks from tomorrowAvanti West Coast services - all passengers will be asked to wear masks from tomorrow
Avanti West Coast services - all passengers will be asked to wear masks from tomorrow

At Preston's Fishergate Centre General Manager Keith Mitchell said: "I think it's business as usual and we'll just step up our arrangements to support the shoppers and each other. In terms of shopping there's already quite a high percentage that have continued to wear their face coverings. In terms of the retail operation there are many shops that have retained the face coverings as well."

He continued: "We're already doing all that and more. But we'll just step up our game to meet Government requirements and I think that's fine and right considering the new threat from Omicron. It's important we all work together as a community to ensure everyone gets a good Christmas. I think everyone deserves that."

The new rules on face coverings do not apply to the hospitality sector or to those attending cinemas and theatres or concerts.

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Ministers have now been urged to take a tougher stance and insist on masks being worn in restaurants and pubs amid concerns the new Covid variant will disrupt Christmas festivities.

The Labour opposition wants masks worn at all indoor hospitality venues and the British Medical Association (BMA) said staff in pubs and restaurants should be required to wear face coverings when serving customers.

Teachers and pupils in Year 7 and above are now being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas outside classrooms in England. While guidance from the Department for Education states face coverings should also be worn by university students and staff in communal spaces and corridors.

Asked if people should be told to wear masks in pubs and restaurants, SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) member Professor Sir Mark Walport, told Sky News: “If you are in a small, poorly ventilated enclosed space, it makes sense to wear a mask. Clearly when you are drinking and eating it’s not possible to do that but if you’re moving around, then absolutely. We know that infection happens in closed spaces indoors and of course, as it gets colder, people are more likely to be indoors and they’re less likely to have the windows open. So if you’re going to wear masks in shops, it makes sense to wear them in other places as well.”

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And Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council at the BMA, told Good Morning Britain: “What we believe is that there should be mask-wearing in all settings which are enclosed and indoors. Now clearly, that doesn’t apply to people who are eating out, but it should apply to staff, for example, in restaurants and bars so that when you are close to a customer, when you’re in direct line of a customer and you’re speaking perhaps loudly, you reduce the chance of infecting others. This isn’t just about the public, it’s also about staff and employers as well, because if they have staff who become infected, staff who are ill and self-isolating, that will also affect the economy.”

Health minister Edward Argar said the decision not to make mask-wearing compulsory in pubs was down to the “nature of the venue”.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast he said: :“It’s partly in the nature of pubs and restaurants and hospitality venues where people are eating, drinking… (they) may go to a bar to order a drink, but will often then sip the drink on their way back to their table where they will be seated. It’s about striking a proportionate balance.”

Experts also stressed the importance of ventilation, particularly in the colder winter months when people are meeting indoors more.

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Earlier today nine cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed across the UK.

For more on Christmas shopping and the Christmas lights in Preston see here and here

For more on Preston Bus Station see here

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