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Coronavirus: Number 10 defends making masks compulsory on public transport but not in shops

Only transport is covered by the new rule on face coverings.

3 min read

The Government has defended making it compulsory for Brits to wear masks on public transport in the coming weeks while not asking the same in shops.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday night confirmed the plans were being brought in across England from June 15 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 as more shops and workplaces begin to open.

"With more people using transport, the evidence suggests that wearing face-coverings offers some, albeit limited, protection against the spread of the virus,” he said.

"A face covering helps protect our fellow passengers. It’s something that we can each do to help each other."

And he warned those who refused to wear them would be denied services and could face fines.

But doctors’ union the British Medical Association has said the use of face coverings “should not be restricted” to transport, and called for the rule to take immediate effect “to all areas where social distancing is not always possible".

June 15 marks the next phase in the Government’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions, with non-essential retailers permitted to open provided they have taken steps to ensure social distancing.

The Government’s ‘roadmap’ for leaving lockdown, published last month, says people should “aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet”. 

That includes shops and public transport, but only transport is covered by the new rule.
Pressed on why the mask requirement was not being extended to stores too, Downing Street on Friday said: “The difference is that in a shop you may pass somebody, but for a short time. On public transport you can be next to somebody for a long period of time.”

And the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson added: “The goal for shops is to not let the shop become overcrowded and to put in measures in place to help maintain social distancing.

“We don’t have the same environment for public transport.”

Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Shapps meanwhile said shopkeepers should ensure their stores do not become "overcrowded", a move he said could be helped by lengthy queues outside.

"We're all used to them now, the two-metre queues outside," the Transport Secretary said. "But you don't have that option in quite the same way on public transport, so it is clearly a different environment."

The Government has meanwhile urged the public not to seek out surgical masks and other protective equipment that could otherwise be used by medical professionals, instead encouraging the use of homemade cloth face-coverings.

Asked whether Boris Johnson would himself wear a mask if he takes public transport after June 15, Number 10 said: "Absolutely - the PM will follow the rules in the same way we're expecting people who are travelling on public transport to wear a face covering.”

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