COVID-19

Masks blitz coming as commuters flout rules

The two-week operation starts ­tomorrow and officers will focus on Melbourne’s busiest stations and lines in the morning and afternoon peaks. They’ll be handing out masks to commuters who don’t have one but warn that those who reject them ­without a valid reason and deliberately fail to comply with health directions will get a $200 fine.The huge effort comes as exclusive figures show around half of passengers have been wearing masks so far this month.It’s despite an infected returned traveller bringing the risk into sharp focus when he rode two major rail services, forcing hundreds of commuters, including footy fans, into isolation.Superintendent Andrew Humberstone, of Victoria Police’s Transit Division, told the Sunday Herald Sun the force was determined to help protect the health and safety of all public transport users as more people ­returned to trains, trams and buses.“We know that many people have expressed discomfort around diminishing mask compliance on public transport and in response to this, commuters may notice a bolstered protective services officers and police presence performing roving patrols across the city’s public transport network from Monday,’’ Superintendent Humberstone said.“As part of these patrols, police will not only be engaging with those not wearing a mask without a valid reason and offering them a face covering, but also providing reassurance to the rest of the travelling public that a rule ­designed to protect everyone’s health and safety is still being respected.”Transport Department analysis shows that, so far this month, 53 per cent of train passengers and 52 per cent on trams were properly wearing a mask.In April, the numbers were 50 per cent and 55 per cent respectively.The figures were even worse compared with last November when — in the wake of months of lockdown — compliance on both trains and trams was 88 per cent.“Given face coverings aren’t as ingrained in our daily lives as they were last year, we also understand it may be easy to forget to pack a mask as you rush for the train in the morning or leave the pub after a few post-work drinks, so we will always be adopting an educational approach and providing anyone not wearing a mask with the option of one,’’ Superintendent Humberstone said.“We will also be on the lookout for any criminal or anti-social behaviour as part of these patrols, ensuring the travelling public not only is safe, but feels safe on our trains, trams and buses.”Under the chief health officer’s directions, face masks are mandatory on public transport and in rideshare vehicles and taxis. They must cover the nose and mouth and be worn for the entire journey. Authorised officers employed by rail, tram or bus companies don’t have authority or legal power to enforce the directions.Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll said: “We need every single Victorian to play their part in protecting the precious gains we’ve made against the virus, to keep our state safe and open.“We know that sometimes people just forget their masks when travelling — and we’ve got you covered, with transport staff and police handing out masks in busy public transport areas over the coming weeks,’’ he said.Thousands of free face masks are available at more than 80 metropolitan and 50 regional station ticket booths. They’re also being handed out at six city tram stops on weekends.Public transport patronage is at 52 per cent of pre-COVID [email protected] COMPLIANCE

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