June 4, 2020
By: Rowena Mason
Face coverings on public transport will be compulsory from 15 June in England to help stop the transmission of coronavirus as more people go back to work, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said.
The government will require people to wear face coverings on buses, trains, tubes and other modes of public transport from that date, when non-essential shops are likely to reopen.
However, it will not apply to people entering shops, despite the current guidance saying face coverings should be worn in enclosed public places.
Ministers are bringing in the policy due to concerns about the difficulties of physical distancing on crowded public transport, despite people being asked to use other ways of travelling, to space out, face away from each other and travel at staggered times.
“As of Monday 15 June, face coverings will become mandatory on public transport,” Shapps told the daily press conference. “That doesn’t mean surgical masks, which we must keep for clinical settings, it means the kind of face covering you can easily make at home.
“The evidence suggests that wearing face coverings offers some, albeit limited, protection, against the spread of the virus.”
The aim of the measures is to help stop asymptomatic people passing the virus on to others and also act as a visible reminder of the need for distancing and measures such as handwashing.
However, Jim McMahon, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said the government was being too slow to bring in the protections. “Two months ago, Labour immediately backed the mayor of London’s call for face coverings on public transport to be compulsory. Yet only now Tory ministers are acting,” he said.
The measures come as a Guardian survey suggests that fewer than four in 10 people currently wear a face covering on public transport, with young and middle-aged men the least likely to use them on trains, buses, trams and the tube.
Under the conditions of carriage, fines may be imposed for anyone who flouts the new rules but there are questions about how it will be policed.
Sir Peter Hendy, the Network Rail chairman, said he expects most passengers to comply with the requirement. “I am not expecting a huge upsurge in railway staff having to police this,” he said. “I am expecting sensible passengers to do their duty and look after themselves and others.”
n Scotland, people are also advised to wear face masks on public transport and in enclosed public spaces. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Thursday that she was considering making the measure compulsory and it may be “inevitable” at some point, as anecdotal evidence suggests many Scots are disregarding guidance.
In Wales, wearing face coverings is a matter of personal choice, while in Northern Ireland it is recommended that people “should think about using face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible”.
The differing advice means passengers not wearing a mask in Wales or Scotland on trains would have to put on a mask when crossing the border.
Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ trade union, said it was a “sensible step”.
“We have been working closely with the government to ensure that agreed increases in services on Britain’s train, and tube, network is done in a safe and controlled manner – to help spread [the number of travellers], and maintain social distancing – for the safety of passengers and staff,” he said.
“The instruction to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus will ease the concerns of people travelling, and working, on the transport network.”
Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA travel and transport union, said it would help “lower the transmission of this deadly virus among those using public transport in the weeks and months to come”.
“However, it’s also important to stress that people must not interpret the use of a face covering as a licence to breach social-distancing measures as lockdown eases,” he said. “A physical distance of at least two metres between passengers and/or staff must be maintained at all times as this remains the most effective measure to control the spread of Covid-19.