Face masks will become optional in many settings in England from Monday 19 July. But transport operators will continue to have their own policies for passengers, with Transport for London insisting on face coverings on all its services.
Airlines say their current rules will remain in force. But most rail and bus operators say face coverings will be optional. “It is important that we respect everyone’s right to choose whether to wear a face covering,” says the Confederation of Passenger Transport.
These are the key questions and answers as of Tuesday 13 July at 12 noon.
What does the law say at the moment?
“No person may, without reasonable excuse, enter or remain within a relevant place without wearing a face covering.”
This includes all public transport vehicles and “hubs” (including airports, bus stops and rail stations) – with the exception of cafes and restaurants where passengers sit at tables. It also covers taxis and other private hire vehicles.
Under 11s are exempt, as are people who “cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability”.
What is changing?
The government says that in England from 19 July: “The legal requirements to wear a face covering will be lifted in all settings.”
The aim is to “enable people to make informed decisions about how to manage the risk to themselves and others”.
But the latest announcement adds: “To help reduce the spread of Covid19, published guidance will advise that wearing a face covering will reduce your risk and the risk to others.”
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said that the mandatory wearing of face masks in public settings “will remain in place, not just now but, in all likelihood, for some time to come”.
Wales and Northern Ireland will also make their own decisions.
What do politicians say?
Initially the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “I will carry a mask with me for the foreseeable future. I think that’s the sensible thing to do. If I’m in a crowded, enclosed space, I will wear a mask.
“If I was on a crowded Tube, I would wear a mask. But if I was on the West Coast main line going up to my constituency [Bromsgrove in the West Midlands] and it’s late at night and there’s about three people in the carriage, even if it said, ‘We recommend a mask,’ I wouldn’t wear a mask.
“I think that’s just a reasonable, balanced judgement and I think we can trust people like that.”
The prime minister later said: “We expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”
But the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he would ask Transport for London – for which he is ultimately responsible – to keep the mask rule in place.
“I’m not prepared to stand by and put Londoners, and our city’s recovery, at risk,” he said. “This is why, after careful consideration, I have decided to ask TfL to retain the requirement for passengers to wear a face covering on all TfL services when the national regulations change.
Face coverings will be continue to be compulsory on all Transport for London services, including the Tube, Docklands Light Railway, buses, trams and the London Overground – the suburban rail service, which duplicates some routes with National Rail including Paddington to Reading.
On this route, masks will be optional on GWR trains but compulsory for London Overground services.
Uber has also said face coverings will still be required in its vehicles.
What do the train operators say?
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, representing train firms, told The Independent: “Travelling by train is low risk as carriages are well ventilated with air regularly refreshed either by air conditioning systems, or by doors and windows being opened.
“Of course, train companies will continue with extra cleaning and better information about how busy services are.
“We will support people who wish to continue wearing face coverings in future.”
Observation of a significant number of rail services suggest that around one-third of passengers already disregard the requirement – although of course there are medical reasons for some not to wear face masks.
LNER, the state-owned operator on the East Coast main line connecting London with Yorkshire, north east England and Scotland, is asking passenger to continue to wear face coverings on its trains and in stations.
The managing director, David Horne, tweeted: “This is especially important to keep everyone safe as Covid-19 case numbers rise and train services get busier. Thank you for your co-operation and consideration for others.”
Passengers must follow the rules that apply in the country you are in. For example if you are on a train from England to Scotland, it is mandatory to wear a mask at least during the segment north of the border.
Eurostar, which serves destinations in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, is a special case because it must take into account the regulations across its network. Mask rules were imposed ahead of UK government regulations and are likely to remain in place.
Bus and coach operators?
The Confederation of Public Transport, representing bus and coach operators, finds itself in a tricky position. As with the railways, there is a fear that making masks mandatory will create the impression that public transport is risky.
The organisation said in a statement: “We expect that many people, especially in busy places, will follow the prime minister’s call to continue to wear a face covering as a courtesy to others.
“Passengers, though, will find it difficult to understand why the prime minister has singled out public transport as somewhere to wear a face covering when a range of other activities share its characteristics.
“We now need to see clear guidance for operators and customers but, in the absence of regulations, it is important that we respect everyone’s right to choose whether to wear a face covering.”
They are keeping rules in place. Many carriers brought in mask policies well before the UK government regulations mandated face coverings, following advice from health and industry bodies including the World Health Organisation, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
“At present their guidance around the wearing of masks onboard remains unchanged,” said an easyJet spokesperson.
“There are no changes to easyJet’s onboard mask policy and we will keep this under review.”
Because of the international nature of aviation, airlines want policies that work across their network. So don’t expect changes soon.
British Airways and Ryanair say their policies will not change.
A spokesperson for Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, said: “In line with Easa/ECDC guidelines and in order to protect the health of our customers and crew, the use of face masks will still be mandatory across all Ryanair flights, regardless of the departing/destination country”.
Passengers are told: “You must wear a face mask or covering in the airport and onboard your flight. Some countries such as Italy require this to be a surgical face mask. If you are travelling to/from/within Austria or Germany, it must be a FFP2 face mask.”
British Airways says: “We require you to wear your face mask at all times, as a guide one mask lasts four hours so please bring enough for your journey.”
Loganair’s chief operations officer, Maurice Boyle, said: “We believe that a consistent policy across our route network will provide assurance and confidence for each and every customer – and that confidence has been at the forefront of Loganair’s efforts to fly continuously throughout the pandemic to deliver essential connectivity across the UK.
“Therefore, unless a customer is medically exempt from the need to wear a face covering, we’ll be keeping the requirement to wear one in place on every Loganair flight. We’ll keep this under regular review and communicate future changes when the time is right for those to be made.”
A spokesperson for Gatwick airport said: “Following the government announcement last night we are working with our airlines, industry bodies and partners looking at post ‘unlock’ guidance for our passengers and staff at the airport so they are clear and well informed on the best measures to follow once the government has made its final decision regarding the domestic ‘unlock’ timing and plans.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Airports are unique environments with an international passenger profile. This is why face coverings were mandatory at Heathrow before the Government made them a legal requirement and they will continue to be mandatory at the airport after 19 July as part of a multi-layered array of Covid-secure measures to ensure we protect our passengers, our colleagues and rebuild confidence in travel.”
Brittany Ferries, a French-owned company, is not changing its rules. As masks are still mandated in France, they will be required on board. The regulations are strict: “French law dictates that, whilst in the port and on board, all passengers aged 11 and over and crew are required to wear a mask at all times when in public areas (when not seated to eat or drink).
“Face coverings in the form of bandanas or scarves are not permitted. We ask that you please respect this requirement, as failure to do so may result in refusal of travel both now and in the future.”
Passengers who cannot wear a mask must submit a copy of their exemption certificate to firstname.lastname@example.org ahead of sailing. “Holders of exemption certificates are required to go immediately to their cabin and remain there for the duration of the sailing as masks must be worn in all public areas,” the ferry firm says.
Britain’s only hovercraft operation, from Southsea in Hampshire to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, will continue to ask passengers to wear face masks even when they stop being mandatory on Monday 19 July.
Neil Chapman, managing director of Hovertravel, said: “Hovertravel‘s first priority will always be to protect the safety of its passengers and staff.
“Whilst we recognise the law has changed, we, along with the other ferry operators and the Isle of Wight Council, will continue to ask for face coverings to be worn during your journey.
“We believe that this measure is an important step in safeguarding our passengers and our people.”