Face coverings are to become compulsory for people using public transport in England from Monday 15 June.
Also, all hospital visitors and outpatients will have to wear face coverings and all staff will have to wear surgical masks at all times, in all areas.
Face coverings are already recommended in some enclosed spaces – like public transport and shops – when social distancing isn’t possible.
What are the new rules?
The move to compulsory face coverings on buses, trains, ferries and planes, and the new rules for hospitals, will coincide with a further easing of lockdown restrictions.
From 15 June, ministers want more non-essential retailers to open and some secondary school pupils to return to classes. This could put more pressure on public transport, and make social distancing more difficult.
The government has stressed that people should:
- Continue working from home if they can do so
- Avoid public transport if they can’t work from home
- Avoid the rush hour if they have to take public transport
Some passengers will be exempt from the new rules:
- Young children
- Disabled people
- Those with breathing difficulties
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said passengers should wear “the kind of face covering you can easily make at home”. Surgical masks should be kept for medical uses.
He told BBC News that while scientists aren’t in full agreement about face coverings, “we think it’s worth doing absolutely everything possible” to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
How will the new rules be enforced?
Mr Shapps said it would be a “condition of travel” to wear a face covering and people could be refused travel – and even fined – if they didn’t follow the rules.
He said British Transport Police would enforce the regulation if necessary – but he hoped most travellers would comply.
Details of the rules will be displayed at stations. Transport staff will also wear face coverings, and volunteer marshals, known as “journey makers”, will give advice.
What’s the current advice?
Until now the government advice in England has said you should wear face coverings:
- On public transport and in some shops, where social distancing can’t be observed
- In other enclosed spaces where you come into contact with others you don’t normally meet
It also stresses that personal face coverings:
- Do not replace social distancing – which should still be observed
- Should not be confused with surgical masks or respirators, which should be left for healthcare staff and other workers who need them
- Should not be worn by very young children or people who have problems breathing while wearing a face covering
What about the rest of the UK?
People in Wales are being asked to wear non-medical face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible – including on public transport. But Health Minister Vaughan Gething stopped sort of making their use mandatory.
Similar advice has been given by the first minister and deputy first minister in Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, it is recommended that you consider using face coverings in limited circumstances – such as public transport – as a precautionary measure.
Why doesn’t everyone wear a mask now?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its guidelines on wearing face masks, previously only recommending them for people who are sick and showing symptoms and those caring for people suspected to have coronavirus.
It now recommends that non-medical face coverings should be worn on public transport and in some enclosed work environments.
It also advises that healthcare workers should wear medical masks when providing any patient care.
People over 60 and those with underlying health conditions, the WHO says, should wear medical masks when social distancing cannot be achieved.
Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances – they might help stop the spread of coronavirus by people who are contagious but have no symptoms (known as asymptomatic transmission).
Coronavirus is spread by droplets that can spray into the air when those infected talk, cough and sneeze. These can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object.
Although there is a risk of self-contamination from wearing face coverings, when taking them on and off, and that they may give a person a false sense of security.
What face masks are used by health workers?
The most protective mask is an FFP3 or, alternatively, an N95 or an FFP2.
NHS staff in lower-risk situations can wear a surgical mask. This includes healthcare workers within one metre of a patient with possible or confirmed Covid-19. These staff may be in hospitals, primary care, ambulance trusts, community care settings and care homes.
From 15 June, all hospital staff in England will be required to wear surgical masks under all circumstances. Members of the public attending hospital will be strongly urged to wear a face covering (although no one will be denied care and face masks will be provided by the hospital if necessary)
Where am I supposed to get a face covering?
There is lots of advice online about how to make them.
Suggestions include using common household items, such as cotton fabric from old T-shirts or bedding.
The government has published advice on how to wear and make your own cloth face covering which says:
- A cloth face covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably
- It can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before putting it on and after taking it off and after use
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times and store used face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them