LONDON — From June 15, it will be compulsory for people using public transportation in England to wear a face mask, the government announced Thursday after months of debate over the effectiveness of face coverings.
Within minutes, many took to social media to voice concerns that officials had taken too long to implement the rule. Others questioned why it would not take effect immediately.
On Friday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has previously called for people to wear masks while traveling, said he “welcomed the change of mind from the government,” but he expressed frustration that the measure was not implemented sooner.
Speaking to “BBC Breakfast,” Khan said that although evidence suggested that masks could help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, he did not want to “go at it alone” and enforce the rule on Transport for London services — for which he is responsible — when other regions would have had a different rule and mixed messaging.
“This delay has been good for nobody,” he said.
With almost 40,000 deaths, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the second-worst overall after the United States. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic, including a decision not to implement a lockdown until March 23, far later than many other countries. His government has also drawn accusations that it was slow to ramp up testing and provide help for health workers.
“I first asked about mandatory face masks at the press conference on 10 April, when many other countries had already made them compulsory,” tweeted journalist Ben Kentish on Thursday. “Answer was that there was no evidence they were effective. Almost two months later, UK follows suit.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps expressed hope that travelers on London’s buses, trains and trams would comply but said British Transport Police would enforce the regulation if necessary.
The mask rule does not extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, which are each charting their own paths on face coverings.