Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport in England from 15 June, transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced. This will include buses, trains, aircraft and ferries. Currently, passengers are advised to wear a face covering but are not stopped from travelling without one.
At a Downing Street press conference, Shapps said changes would be made to the conditions of travel for trains and buses.
“This will mean that you can be refused travel if you don’t comply and you could be fined,” he said.
“Alongside transport operators, this will be enforced by the British Transport Police if necessary, but I expect the vast majority of people won’t need to be forced into this.”
Young children and people with disabilities and breathing difficulties will be exempt.
Face coverings can be a scarf, piece of cloth or mask.
The government argues that they are “marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure”, and that face coverings do not protect the wearer but may protect other people if he or she is infected.
Surgical masks should be reserved for people who need them for protection while at work such as medical staff, according to official advice.
Transport unions had previously urged ministers to enforce the wearing of face coverings after the deaths of dozens of workers during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said the announcement was “long overdue”.
People are advised to wash their hands or use hand sanitiser before a face covering is put on or taken off, and coverings should also be washed regularly.
The announcement came as ministers were facing more pressure over the planned blanket quarantine for travellers to the UK after an expert questioned the government’s claim that the scheme was “backed by science”.
Prof Robert Dingwall, a scientific adviser to the government and member of a sub-group of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), said there was no evidence of new clusters of Covid-19 infection involving people who have been travelling abroad.
“I think we would really need to get the level in this country significantly further down before quarantine started to become a useful measure.
“That I think, even then, we would have to see something that is targeted on countries with a significantly higher level of community transmission than ourselves – and there aren’t too many of those around, I’m afraid.”
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