‘Freedom Day’ face mask confusion looms as legal requirement to wear them ends

Passengers face a chaotic commute on "Freedom Day" after rail bosses said face masks must be worn on busy platforms but can be removed if boarding a quiet train.

The Government has removed the legal requirement for people to wear masks on public transport and in shops and other indoor spaces from Monday. Instead, guidance says it "expects and recommends" people to wear masks in these settings.

The move has left businesses with the responsibility of setting their own requirements on whether they expect customers to wear masks.

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents passenger and freight rail companies, said passengers would be encouraged to wear masks when stations are busy. Many rail operators have said they will expect passengers to put on masks when in a crowded carriage.

It raises the prospect of passengers having to put on and then remove coverings throughout a journey, depending which rail service or station they are using and how busy it is.

To add to the confusion, some operators have said they expect passengers to wear masks on trains regardless of how busy a service is, while others require it only if a carriage is crowded.

LNER trains, owned by the Department for Transport, said passengers should "continue to wear a face covering on our trains and in our stations unless exempt".

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said: "Passengers should follow the government guidance and, as a courtesy to others, wear face coverings if an indoor setting is busy. 

"Train travel is low risk, with the majority of carriages well ventilated by air conditioning systems or by doors and windows. As restrictions lift, we will continue carrying out extra cleaning and providing better information about how busy services are so that our passengers can travel with confidence."

High street chains such as Waterstones and John Lewis have said they expect customers to keep wearing masks – but others, such as Costa Coffee, said customers and staff would no longer have to.

The country’s two largest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, will require all travellers to wear masks.

This means customers face the prospect of having to wear a mask in a terminal or a busy train station, removing it if they enter a Costa branch and then having to put it back on again when they leave.

Most major supermarkets have opted to encourage customers to keep wearing masks from July 19, but the country’s biggest pub chains have taken the opposite approach, telling customers and staff they can wear masks at their own discretion. 

Wetherspoon, Greene King and Mitchell and Butler, which between them run nearly 6,000 pubs, have said it is up to customers and staff whether or not they choose to wear a mask.  

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