Traveller on public transport in England will be compelled to wear face coverings from June 15 and travellers who don’t comply with the new law will be fined under instructions issued by the government to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
The announcement is a significant hardening in the approach by ministers after months of a more laissez-faire attitude. It comes as the government expects an increase in the use of public transport in the next few weeks as economic activity starts to pick up after several months of the lockdown.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the next loosening of restrictions from June 15, with the reopening of non-essential shops, would mean more pressure on public transport.
Mr Shapps said those who could work from home should continue to do so while those who had to travel to work should try to avoid the rush hour. But face coverings would be mandatory for everyone using public transport from June 15 apart from a handful of exemptions such as children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties.
However, Ministers have discouraged the general public from using medical face masks because they do not want to jeopardise the supplies to frontline health workers for are very much at risk and important.
Britain does not produce in large quantities the disposable face masks that have become common in Asia since the Sars epidemic in 2002-03 and would struggle to import more in large quantities given a surge in global demand. As a result, Mr Shapps made clear that he was recommending the use of makeshift scarves, masks and bandanas rather than professional face masks.
The World Health Organization says there is no evidence to support the use of face masks by the general population, however medical masks should be reserved for health workers especially.