Among those urging Boris Johnson to maintain legal requirements around face coverings on Wednesday was Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, who suggested the Prime Minister was trying to “wish away” the practical problems that will come with a possible 100,000 coronavirus infections a day.
Sir Keir told the Commons: “We should open up in a controlled way, keeping baseline protections such as masks on public transport, improving ventilation, making sure the Track and Trace system remains effective, and ensuring proper payments for self-isolation.”
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said he would be “very relaxed” if any bus and train operators in England continued to require passengers to wear face coverings from July 19.
“If you’re travelling on the Underground and it’s pretty packed, and the wearing of a face covering may well be helpful to increase confidence,” he said.
Mandatory masks in airports
Airports are considering new by-laws to make masks mandatory, despite plans to lift all restrictions.
Travellers who refuse to wear them without good reason could face fines if the airports go ahead with the move although it would be a civil rather than a criminal offence.
The airports point to recommendations by the International Civil Aviation Authority on the need for face coverings and the decision by UK airlines to continue to require mandatory masks on passenger flights.
Penalties would range from fines to a maximum of five years in prison, although this is reserved for the most serious offences where the safety of passengers was threatened.
The airports are awaiting guidance from the Department for Transport before deciding how to proceed but would only be able to impose civil sanctions.
A source said: “We are keen face masks remain in terminal buildings but how to enforce it is difficult.
“We are looking at ways to do it including by-laws. The airlines have come out strongly in making it mandatory so we need to coordinate our response. If we cannot mandate it, it will certainly be strongly advised.”
Meanwhile, the Unite union said masks should be mandatory in bank branches to keep staff safe, while Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said that face masks may still be needed in A&E departments to “keep people safe”.