Sadiq Khan could tell Londoners to wear masks in public during the coronavirus outbreak – regardless of advice from the Government.
The Mayor said he may take “unilateral” action and order bus passengers in the capital to cover their faces – as the number of staff deaths continues to rise.
But bus drivers today accused the Mayor of self-promotion and said the plans would be impossible to police.
Government ministers have so far resisted telling Brits to wear face masks to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Other European countries – including France and Germany – are now ordering people to wear masks in some public places.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon advised Scots to cover their faces in shops and on public transport, where social distancing can be more difficult.
In London, Mr Khan has been lobbying the Government to change its advice on face masks – now says he could issue his own rules in the capital to protect transport workers.
Speaking to ITV News, he said: “If it’s the case that despite all our lobbying and the emerging scientific evidence the Government doesn’t change its guidance, I may well decide unilaterally to instruct Londoners to do that.”
At least 34 transport staff have died in the city, according to the latest confirmed figures from Transport for London (TfL) – and most of them are bus workers.
The Local Democracy Service previously reported that many drivers believe the Mayor has been too slow to take action and keep them safe.
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Former TfL board member and safety panel chair Michael Liebreich told the service that all bus passengers should wear masks more than three weeks ago.
Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey also called for mandatory face coverings two weeks ago.
Bus drivers told the Local Democracy Service today that the Mayor’s announcement felt like self-promotion.
One driver said “nothing has been thought through” in the plan, because workers have not been properly consulted.
He said: “The issue will be of enforcement. With the majority of buses using rear door entry now, it’s difficult enough to control the numbers of passengers as it is.
“We regularly see normal pre-lockdown numbers on the bus these days, with standing room only.
“If you have no control over that, adding another thing to police isn’t going to work at all.”
He said the Mayor was just offering “another idea he’s had that will make him look good”.
He added: “Mr Khan is giving the illusion that he wants to do something but is being prevented from doing so by other parties. He could have done this week’s ago.”
Another dismissed the Mayor’s plans as “the usual rhetoric” from City Hall.
He said: “I think it’s a good idea for people who are out and about to wear a face coverings or masks.
“But I don’t think the mayor can force people to wear a mask on public transport.
“There is little the police can do to enforce the lockdown, so it will be a personal choice.”
But a third driver said the plan was a “great idea” that would help keep passengers safe.
He said: “I feel quite secure and safe now – but with passengers only having access to the rear doors there is a lot of cross contamination.
“Plus, we are now seeing extra passengers who would not normally be using the bus and are certainly not key workers.”
The Mayor previously warned that masks can increase complacency about social distancing, because people believe they’re safe.
And it would be hard to ensure enough masks are available even for drivers, given the lack of personal protective equipment plaguing the health service, he claimed.