The government has confirmed that it will work with operators to make it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings when using public transport in England.
Announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, he explained that while wherever possible people should continue to avoid public transport and walk, cycle or drive, those who have to use the transport should wear a face covering.
As part of the release, Shapps detailed that when necessary to use public transport people may be more likely to be in enclosed spaces for longer periods of time where we know there is a greater risk of the spread of the virus and social distancing is likely to be difficult to follow consistently.
This differs from enclosed spaces like shops, for example, where people can more easily go outside if social distancing is not possible and where shop owners can place limits on the number of customers allowed inside at any one time.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has set out that using face coverings in this setting can provide some small additional protection to fellow passengers and can help people to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus if they are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.
Speaking at the Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Grant Shapps confirmed the government is asking operators to introduce face coverings as a requirement for travel from June 15.
The government will also work closely with the transport industry to help them implement the plans.
While the government expects the vast majority of people to comply with the changes, operators will be able to refuse travel or issue penalty fines for those who fail to wear a face covering, in a similar way to the rules on having a ticket for travel.
British Transport Police will also support the implementation of these changes.
Commenting, Shapps said: “People should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. But, as restrictions are carefully eased when it is safe to do so, it’s likely that we will see more people needing to use public transport.
“So, while respecting social distancing and maintaining good hand hygiene remain the most important steps we can all take to stay safe, wearing a face covering can play a role in helping us to protect each other.”
Adding: “This is about the small changes we can take to help control the virus, which is why I urge everyone using transport to wear a face covering, to help keep us all safer.”
Face coverings are not the same as face masks. It is important that people do not use medical grade PPE masks to ensure these remain available for frontline staff.
Last month, the government set out advice for people on how to make their own face coverings easily at home, using scarves or other textile items.
These face coverings should cover the mouth and nose while allowing the wearer to breathe comfortably and can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head to give a snug fit.