Face coverings are now compulsory on all forms of public transport as of today (June 15).
Wearing a face covering will be a condition of travel and those that do not adhere to the rules will face fines and transport operators can refuse travel.
Alongside this, hundreds of thousands of face coverings will be handed out for passenger use at many locations across the rail network in England from Monday. The one-off initiative, which will run for several days at a number of stations, will see coverings provided free of charge to support passengers and help them travel safely.
Under the changes, operators will be able to stop passengers who refuse to follow the rules from travelling and direct them to leave services.
The police and Transport for London authorised personnel will also be able to issue fixed penalty notices of £100, or £50 if paid in 14 days.
Over 3,000 extra police officers and staff are being deployed at public transport stations to make sure the new rules are followed and enforced.
While the measure applies in England, the Secretary of State advised that the Government will be working with the devolved administrations prior to the implementation of this policy to clarify what the policy will be on cross-border services and within Wales and Scotland.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet made face coverings compulsory, but they all reccomend people where them in all places where social distancing is more difficult, like public transport.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement on the new rules during the Government’s daily coronavirus news briefing on June 4 and said precautions must be taken as more passengers are expected to start using public transport later into the year as more lockdown measures are eased.
A face mask or face covering must be worn by everyone travelling on buses, trains, aircraft and ferries. However, young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties will be exempt from the rules.
Face coverings are to help prevent an infected person or those that are asymptomatic (someone that is carrying the virus and may not know it yet) from spreading it more widely to other people, rather than offering protection to stop the person wearing the face covering from contracting COVID-19 themselves.
Shapps said: “As we come through this phase we’re doing what many other countries have asked transport users to do.
“As passenger numbers increase, and we expect this trend to continue, we need to ensure every precaution is taken.
“With more people using transport, the evidence suggests that wearing face coverings offers some, albeit limited, protection against the spread of the virus.
“A face covering helps protect fellow passengers and it’s something we can each do to help each other.
"While it also remains true that measures like maintaining social distancing and washing your hands remain the most critical to do, we also know keeping two meters apart isn’t always possible on public transport."
ASLEF, the train driver's union, welcomed the announcement.
Mick Whelan, general secretary, said: "This is a sensible step by the Secretary of State for Transport.
"We have been working closely with the government to ensure that agreed increases in services on Britain's train, and Tube, network is done in a safe and controlled manner - to help spread the loading, and maintain social distancing - for the safety of passengers and staff.
"The instruction to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus will ease the concerns of people travelling, and working, on the transport network."
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: "Wearing face coverings on trains will help to ensure that those who need to travel by rail can do so with confidence.
"Greater use of face coverings will boost the other measures we are putting in place to keep people safe, like more thorough cleaning, improved information on potential crowding and one-way systems at busier stations."
Jim McMahon MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said the Government has been too slow to act on face coverings.
He said: "Two months after first raising this with Government we are still 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.
“We can’t go on like this. We need a comprehensive transport plan to get our public transport moving, to protect staff and to protect passengers.”