Face coverings became mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland today. It has been widely publicised and staff at bus and train stations have been handing out free masks to commuters throughout the week. So, model citizen that I am, I duly boarded the train this morning with my mask on. This is no easy task for a spectacle wearing gentleman who fogged up immediately and clambered into his seat, grasping for purchase like a drunken sailor.
The 08:28 express to Belfast would normally be standing room only and I’d be ‘enjoying’ the commuting experience with my nose wedged in some fellow traveler’s armpit. But, since returning to work, the trains have been near empty. I’m not sure if a lot of people are working from home or avoiding public transport at the minute. Either way I had the luxury of a double seat all to myself as I sat back and surveyed my surroundings.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I observed a fellow passenger, several seats in front of me, boarding the train without a mask. Bold as brass he summoned the conductor to buy a ticket. Here we go, I thought, he will be put in his place in no uncertain terms and told to affix said face covering immediately. But no, the ticket was purchased without any form of query or challenge by the powers of law and order. Hmmm, I thought, this can’t be right.
Thinking I had gotten my dates wrong I checked the Translink N.I. Twitter feed. Nope. FACE MASKS ARE MANDATORY ON ALL TRAINS AND BUSES FROM 10 JULY. It was everywhere. I googled the meaning of ‘mandatory.’ Something that is required, compulsory, obligatory. That’s fairly clear, I thought, wiping my condensed glasses as I squinted at the screen of my phone. I decided to query it via a tweet. How very daring, I know.
To be fair, the head tweeter at Translink N.I. responded within minutes to inform me that some passengers were exempt from wearing masks for medical reasons. Fair enough I replied, but the conductor I observed at no point asked the passenger if there was a reason as to why he had boarded the train without a face covering. Gotcha, I thought, wriggle out that one Head Tweeter Person. Game, set and match to moi.
Oh no. Quick as you like, my inbox chirped to reveal that I was most mistaken. Persons with medical exemptions are not required to provide evidence of said exemption. And, whilst the wearing of face coverings was mandatory, staff are much too busy to check up on people not wearing them. It is just assumed that they have a perfectly good reason for not doing so and are allowed to carry on regardless while the rest of us frown from behind said masks.
I bit my lip and was on the verge of replying but then concluded it was clearly a pointless exercise. Head Tweeter person was wasted in social media and should certainly pursue a career in politics such was their skill at avoiding simple questions and twisting and turning the truth to suit their needs at that particular moment. Do as we say, not as we do. They were clearly making up the policy as they went along in order to protect a colleague who couldn’t be bothered doing their job.
The gentleman in question could have had a perfectly plausible explanation for not wearing a face covering. A polite question would have gathered that reason and set my mind at ease as we hurtled through the Northern Irish countryside towards the city. But let’s not rock the boat and cause a scene. As long as we look good in the media who cares if the virus spikes again and me and my family are placed at unnecessary risk. Well played, Translink N.I.