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Comment: Face masks on public transport will increase confidence to fly

Steve Endacott says if coverings are good enough for trains its good enough for planes

The government’s announcement that wearing a face mask on all public transport is now compulsory may seem an odd thing for the UK travel trade to celebrate, but it is in fact a major plank in a return of holiday travel.

It effectively admits that two-metre social distancing measures are not practical in all elements of everyday life, and can be replaced with simple personal protection measures like face masks. If personal protective equipment (PPE) can effectively protect NHS staff in medical environments where there is a 100% infection rate on Covid-19 wards, it’s logical to assume similar measures can protect travellers on public transport when the average infection rate in the general population is a lot lower.

The more the public move away from blanket two-metre social distancing to using face masks as an alternative protection mechanism, the faster they will become comfortable with flying. What is the difference between a train or bus station and an airport? If you can spend one or two hours on a train, then why not a plane? In reality, aircraft are a lot safer than trains, tubes and busses, because aircraft air filtering systems create a sterile environment close to that of an operating theatre.

The move also further undermines the government’s illogical and compulsory 14-day self-isolation period imposed on all arrivals to the UK from June 8. If face masks neutralise any incremental risk of flying, then the only other potential risk is from countries with a higher “R” [reproduction] rate compared to the UK. There is no logic to thinking holidaymakers are at a greater risk on holiday than in their day-to-day environment in the UK. Countries like Spain, Greece and Portugal all have lower R levels.

I continue to think the travel industry needs to force the government’s hand via co-operation, rather than conflict. It has never been more clear that the government does not really care about the survival of the outbound travel sector, evidenced by its response to industry dismay at the financial damage the 14-day quarantine threatens.

One such collaborative move would be to make the filling out of track and trace forms and, in the future, downloading the government’s app, part of the flight booking process. If this was complemented by Covid-19 testing at airports for both arrivals and departures, then there is no way the government could resist the lifting of the quarantine.

We shouldn’t need to do all of the above to have the government lift the quarantine, but committing towards working on implementing these Covid-19 protections would massively strengthen our position with the government, as well as providing assurance to the traveling public that travel is still relatively safe, even before a Covid-19 antidote is available.

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