Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps has said that face coverings will be mandatory on all public transport from June 15 in England.
He stated that “every precaution” must be taken as passenger numbers were likely to rise when lockdown measures were further lifted. The wearing of face coverings will be compulsory on trains, buses, aircraft and ferries. However, very young children, disabled people or anyone with breathing difficulties would remain exempt, he added.
The announcement comes as the number of UK deaths from people who tested positive for coronavirus, rises to almost 40,000.
Mr Shapps, who was speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing, said that face coverings would be “a condition of travel” and not wearing one could “ultimately” lead to a fine.
He also advised that surgical masks must be kept for a clinical setting and travellers on public transport should instead wear the style of face covering that could be made at home.
The change coincides with the planned reopening of non-essential shops and some secondary schools in England from June 15, which Mr Shapps stated would put “more pressure” on public transport.
It is thought that wearing a face covering can help to prevent an infected person passing on the virus, but not stop someone from contracting it.
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said he was not expecting a “huge surge” in staff policing these new rules. “I am expecting sensible passengers to do their duty and look after themselves and others,” he commented at the Downing Street briefing.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has spoken of how the Scottish parliament was considering whether to make it mandatory to wear face coverings in some situations. Guidelines in Scotland currently recommend wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport.
In Wales, face coverings have not recommended for the general public to date. Whilst in Northern Ireland, people have been advised to consider wearing coverings in places where they cannot easily observe social distancing guidelines.
Unions have been demanding the wearing of compulsory face coverings after dozens of public transport workers contracted Covid-19 and died.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, welcomed Mr Shapp’s announcement and said it was a “sensible step” which would help to ease concerns of travellers.