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Should masks be made compulsory for public transport users in NSW?

Senior bus driver with Hills bus service. Source: Mehnga Singh Khakh

Whilst the New South Wales government 'strongly recommends' that passengers on public transport wear masks, it is not a mandatory requirement in the state. The NSW Rail, Tram and Bus Union has called this out as a health hazard and had threatened to go on strike for 48 hours next week if mask-wearing and social distancing isn't mandated as compulsory for all commuters. Several bus drivers have spoken to SBS Punjabi with their perspective.

Even though face masks aren't compulsory in any jurisdiction of Australia apart from Victoria, earlier this month, the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had made a strong recommendation that people should wear a mask in enclosed spaces or in circumstances where social distancing can not be maintained.

She specifically mentioned public transport, shopping for groceries at the supermarket, working in roles with high customer contact, and attending a place of worship as circumstances where mask-wearing is "highly recommended" to prevent community transmission of coronavirus.


Highlights:

  • Masks are "highly recommended" on public transport in NSW, but they're not compulsory
  • Bus drivers have warned of a 48-hour strike next week if masks and social distancing are not mandated
  • Drivers say they feel safe, but can't stop a commuter from boarding if they're not wearing a mask

However, wearing a mask isn't mandatory in NSW, and the NSW Rail Tram and Bus Union has written to the Premier earlier this week (on August 17) to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing as a compulsory requirement on public transport, failing which, bus drivers will go on strike for 48 hours next week.

However, late on Thursday afternoon, the Union decided to call off the two-day strike, and hold a stop-work meeting for two hours on Monday instead, because there is "not much to be gained by taking action" during a pandemic.

Mehnga Singh Khakh, a senior bus driver with Hills bus service in Sydney gave his perspective to SBS Punjabi, clarifying that as of now, masks aren't a compulsory requirement for drivers either. 

Mehnga Singh Khakh with fellow bus drivers in Sydney
Mehnga Singh Khakh with fellow bus drivers in Sydney
Supplied

"It is a personal choice made by the drivers whether to wear a mask or not. It isn't mandatory. However most of us do wear it when we are behind the wheel", says Mr Khakh.

"Nowadays, we have very few passengers using our bus services. At the maximum, I would have 10 passengers on board, and I think a majority of the people wear masks. Only a few don't."

Mr Khakh says he feels largely safe since his bus company goes to great lengths to ensure the safety of drivers, as well as the level of hygiene inside the buses.

"The bus company has recently installed screens to protect the drivers, also supplying us masks and sanitisers. The buses are also cleaned professionally at regular intervals to avoid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic."

"Bus seats are properly marked to identify on which ones passengers can sit, in order to maintain social distancing. Most of the time, people follow the instructions. However, if a passenger is rude or doesn't follow Covid-19 instructions, we can't refuse them a ride in the bus," he added.

Many other bus drivers and commuters have contacted SBS Punjabi program during its broadcast on Tuesday, August 18, to weigh in on the debate about masks being made compulsory.

A Sydney driver who identified himself as Mohit corroborated Mr Khakh's observation saying, "I work at the Northmead depot and even I think, most passengers entering the bus wear a mask."

Another driver said, "We are also frontline workers, so we take all precautions. But its also the responsibility of the passengers to ensure that they take every precaution as well. Right now, we can't refuse to board a passenger if they're not wearing a mask, so a new law should be passed for that. That will be good for everyone."

Mr Sardool Singh from Epping in NSW said, "I think wearing a mask should be compulsory".

Mr BS Sandhu from Mango Hill, Queensland added, "the demand for the compulsory mask is very reasonable and must be implemented immediately. It is necessary for the interest of all for health reasons."

Click on the player at the top of the page to listen to this interview in Punjabi.

Public safety message for COVID 19 in Punjabi
SBS Punjabi

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Find out what restrictions are in place for your state or territory.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at http://www.sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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