Face masks compulsory on public transport from June 15, government announces

Anyone without a face covering will not be allowed to board buses, trains or ferries

tube 
Credit: AFP

Face coverings will be mandatory on all public transport from June 15 after the Government reversed its policy on the issue.

Anyone without a face covering from that date can expect to be fined or stopped from boarding buses, trains, Tubes, trams, aeroplanes or ferries.

The move has been brought in to coincide with the widespread reopening of shops and the return of some secondary school pupils, when public transport use is expected to surge.

Ministers will also hope it will persuade more people to return to work, amid concerns that too many people who cannot work from home are still furloughing.

It comes after the Government spent weeks dismissing face coverings as largely pointless at the start of the pandemic, with some ministers even suggesting they did more harm than good. When Boris Johnson recommended them last month, Downing Street insisted face coverings would not be enforced in law.

It led to criticism last night of the Government for dragging its heels over a policy that has been in place for months in many European countries.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “As passenger numbers increase, and we expect this trend to continue, we need to ensure every precaution is taken...the face covering helps protect our fellow passengers. It's something that we can each do to help each other.”

The move will increase speculation that the two metre rule could soon be relaxed. MPs and peers have already lobbied the Government to reduce the distance people must stay apart by using alternative infection controls such as face coverings.

On Wednesday Mr Johnson said he “would like to do such things as reducing the 2m rule”.

From June 15 wearing a face covering will become a condition of travel, similar to having to have a valid ticket.

It means transport staff would have a right to stop people boarding if they do not have a face covering - in the same way that they can stop people boarding without a ticket - and can fine people for failing to wear one.

Fines would be at a similar level to travelling without a ticket, Government sources said. Penalty fares on London Underground are £80.

If someone refuses to pay a fine they could be reported to the police, which is also the case with penalty fares. Face coverings will be compulsory even if passengers are in an otherwise empty carriage.

Very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties will be exempt and the policy will not apply to taxis or private working vehicles such as Government ministerial cars.

Mr Shapps said: “I expect the vast majority of people will not need to be forced into this because wearing a face covering helps protect others, and most people simply want to help defeat this disease.”

Labour said the Government had been “slow to act” and had spent months dithering over the issue.

In April Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said the Government had not recommended the use of face masks because of the risk it would make people “cavalier” in their behaviour.

He said there was a danger people would not observe social distancing if they thought wearing a mask made them completely immune from catching the virus.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or Sage, spent weeks discussing the issue before Boris Johnson finally announced last month, as part of the initial easing of lockdown, that face coverings were recommended in crowded places.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, repeatedly said the evidence for the benefit of face coverings was “weak” but that they could have some benefit in preventing an infected person passing the virus on, rather than in stopping a healthy person catching it.

Mr Johnson has said in the past that he hoped face coverings would also give people more “confidence” to travel if they needed to get to work.

Last month a Downing Street spokesman said that it was “for the public to judge” whether to follow advice to wear a face covering, adding: “It’s not something that is part of the regulations, i.e. you won’t be fined for not wearing a face mask.”

Mr Shapps said people should continue to work from home if they are able to, if they cannot work from home they should “avoid transport wherever possible” and if they have to use public transport they should try to avoid rush hour.

Frontline transport staff who come into contact with passengers will also have to cover their faces, and volunteers are being recruited to help at stations, some of which are already handing out free disposable masks.

Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, said: “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.

“Two months after first raising this with Government we are yet to hear whether drivers will be issued with gloves, masks, and other PPE items as standard, what specification this PPE should be and, if there isn’t sufficient PPE, whether buses should still run.”

The rule changes will be made under the National Rail conditions of travel and the public service vehicle regulations for buses.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said she would follow suit by making face coverings compulsory in enclosed areas including shops if people continued to ignore guidance to wear them.