Will South Africa follow suit?

On Monday, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle declared that the Biden administration’s Covid-19 mask mandate for public transportation it was unlawful; a decision that saw some passengers on flights across America gleefully remove their masks mid-flight. Mizelle, an appointee of former president Donald Trumpruled that the mandate exceeded the authority granted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under federal public-health law and the opinion in which she scrapped the mandate is now effectively applied nationwide. Subsequently, ride-sharing platforms Uber and Lyft have lifted their own mask requirements. In South Africa, the transitional measures implemented after the state of disaster was terminated including a mask mandate will terminate on 4 May. For the mask mandate to continue thereafter, the Draft Health Regulations published for comment earlier this month – which for all intents and purposes replace the National State of Disaster – must be in place on this date. Ironically, our government’s inability to expeditiously attend to anything may just help us dodge this ominous legislation … and its personality-concealing, face-covering mask mandate. – Nadya Swarth

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Uber, Lyft Drop Mask Requirement After Judge Voids Public Transportation Mandate

Ride-sharing companies also will allow riders back in the front passenger seat

Pedestrians walk past a Tiffany & Co., store in London, UK on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

By Omar Abdel-Baqui and Preetika Rana

Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. are no longer requiring US riders or drivers to wear a mask.

The ride-sharing platforms’ decisions Tuesday come a day after a federal judge scrapped the Biden administration’s Covid-19 mask mandate for public transportation, on which the companies’ face-covering rules were based.

“Masks are no longer required, but they are recommended,” Uber said in an email to riders and drivers early Tuesday.

The company said it would also allow riders to sit in the front passenger seat. It previously required passengers to sit in the back to give drivers more distance during the pandemic.

Lyft adopted similar policies. Masks are now optional, and riders can sit in the front, the company said Tuesday.

US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa ruled Monday that Congress had never clearly given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the power to issue population-wide preventive public-health measures such as the mask mandate. That mandate required travelers on plans, trains, taxis and buses to wear masks.

A Biden administration official said the mandate is no longer in effect while the government considers its next steps. The moves leave a hodgepodge of mask policies in place regarding public transportation lines.

The Transportation Security Administration said it would stop enforcing the mask mandate. Airlines late Monday began saying they would lift masking requirements, policy changes that in some cases were implemented midflight. Masks had become a significant source of discord on plans in recent months.

Masks also led to friction between ride-share drivers and passengers. As local and state governments pushed for a widespread reopening this year, many drivers said the companies’ face-covering rules—which were based on the CDC mandate—were becoming harder to enforce.

The tension between drivers and riders, combined with rising gas prices, discouraged some drivers from taking the wheel. Other drivers said they were wrongfully suspended after altercations with passengers who didn’t want to wear masks when the mandate was in place.

Ride-sharing companies don’t tell drivers why they were suspended, making it hard to verify the reasons.

Some driver groups welcomed the companies’ lifting of mask mandates.

“Drivers have had a lot of issues with passengers refusing to wear a mask—they accuse us and retaliate against us,” said Lenny Sanchez, the Illinois director of the Independent Drivers Guild, a driver-run group. “We’re just relieved we don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

Tripp Harris, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student at Indiana University Bloomington, works as an Uber driver when there is a surge in town that results in higher payments. He said Uber dropping its mask mandate won’t influence how often he drives.

The university dropped its mask mandate last month, leading to lower mask compliance in Ubers, Mr. Harris said. On a recent day, he said, about one in 10 riders wore masks.

“The undergraduate population of our town, by and large, probably isn’t concerned that Uber is no longer going to require masks because they weren’t wearing them largely in the first place,” he said.

But drivers with certain health conditions say the looser mask rules could discourage them from driving. Rich Blake, a 58-year-old who drives part-time in the San Francisco area, cut back on ferrying passengers and switched to food delivery because of safety concerns during the health crisis.

“Younger folks can throw caution to the wind but I got to be careful. It just makes ride-share less appealing for people like me,” he said.

Some cities may have their own masking rules, which the companies say they will follow. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission said Tuesday that masks are still required in taxis and for-hire vehicles, including Ubers and Lyfts. Passengers who are not masked can be declined service, a commission spokesman said.

Write to Omar Abdel-Baqui at omar.abdel-b[email protected] and Preetika Rana at [email protected]

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