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Coronavirus: Face coverings to become mandatory

face mask covering  public transport London tube

The Government has changed its advice on the wearing of face coverings on public transport in England.

From June 15, face coverings will become mandatory and anybody failing to comply could be fined or refused travel, the transport secretary Grant Shapps announced yesterday (Thursday, June 4).

He explained: “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.

“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.”

The Government has recommended wearing a face ‘covering’, when in an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible, since the beginning of May.

Examples it gave at the time, included short periods indoors in crowded areas, such as when using public transport or visiting some shops. However, the Government is only making the wearing of face coverings mandatory on public transport.

It says that people using public transport may be more likely to be in enclosed spaces for longer periods of time, where 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.

Public Transport Use

New Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that public transport usage has been slowly increasing, including on the London Underground, which has seen around a 20% rise this week compared to last week.

In terms of overall capacity, however, the latest data shows that on Monday (June 1) tube usage stood at just 10%.

For national rail services, it was even lower, with trains carrying 6% of the passengers compared to an equivalent, pre-pandemic day of the week.

Those few passengers using London’s tubes and buses, however, appear to be already taking precautions. Figures from Transport for London show that between 30-50% of customers on public transport have been using a face covering.

To help more customers adjust to the new face covering rules, TfL will be piloting the temporary distribution of free face coverings at a selection of tube and bus stations that have typically seen higher numbers of customers travelling throughout the lockdown period.

London’s transport commissioner, Mike Brown, said: “I encourage customers not to wait, and to start wearing them now if they are not already.” 

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