Face coverings: What are the new rules?

Redbridge had just four new cases last week, compared to three new cases the week before. Picture: Y

Redbridge had just four new cases last week, compared to three new cases the week before. Picture: Yui Mok/PA. - Credit: PA

Face coverings will soon be compulsory for people wanting to travel on public transport in England to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Transport secretary Grant Schapps during a media briefing at Downing Street. Picture: Andrew Parsons

Transport secretary Grant Schapps during a media briefing at Downing Street. Picture: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Ahead of the new government regulations, which come into force on June 15, here is what you need to know about the use of masks and coverings.

- What is a face covering?

Face coverings are not the same as face masks. The government has stated that coverings can be made from scarves, bandanas or other fabric items, so long as they cover the mouth and nose.

They should allow the wearer to breathe comfortably and be tied behind the head to provide a “snug fit”.

Officials have said people can make their own coverings at home using T-shirts or cotton fabric and string.

- Why are they being recommended?

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The government states that, while wearing a face covering does not protect the wearer, it may protect others if people are infected but have not yet developed symptoms.

People wearing a covering should wash their hands before putting it on and after taking it off.

It should also be washed regularly in the laundry with detergent, the government said.

- What about face masks?

People have been asked not to use medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) masks to ensure these remain available for frontline health staff.

However, several airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair have introduced a requirement for passengers to wear face masks.

- Are the changes effective immediately?

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told a Downing Street press conference on Thursday that the changes would become mandatory from June 15.

- How will it be enforced?

While announcing the measures, Mr Shapps told reporters that it will be enforced by transport operators and British Transport Police “if necessary”.

He said that changes would be made to the conditions of travel for trains and buses, adding: “This will mean that you can be refused travel if you don’t comply and you could be fined.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan told BBC Breakfast the policy would rely a lot on “positive peer pressure” but urged commuters not to “take the law into your own hands” if they saw people without face coverings and speak to a member of staff instead.

- Are there any exemptions?

There will be exemptions to the rules for very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties.

- What if I’m travelling on a train from Wales or Scotland to England?

Mr Shapps has suggested that passengers on trains starting outside England may have to put on coverings when crossing the border.

He said it would be up to Scotland and Wales to issue their own guidance. But earlier on Thursday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that her government is “considering making it mandatory” to wear face coverings on public transport and in shops.

- Where else should they be worn?

Current advice is for face coverings to be worn in enclosed spaces, which also includes some shops, however this is not yet compulsory.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that this is because there was less interaction between people in retail stores.

He said: “But on public transport you could be next to somebody for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, so there is a much larger chance of being close to somebody for a longer period of time.”

People are not being told to wear coverings outdoors, while exercising, in schools or offices.

- If I develop Covid-19 symptoms, can I still go out if I wear a mask or covering?

No. People with coronavirus symptoms and their household should isolate at home.

- What is the science?

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) thinks the evidence of masks preventing the spread of infection from one person to another is “marginal but positive”.

The World Health Organisation has stressed that there is no evidence that wearing a mask - whether medical or other types - by healthy persons in the wider community can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.

- Are there any downsides to using face coverings?

Concerns have been raised that they could give a false sense of security and mean that people are less stringent with other preventative measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene.