People in England are being warned that new rules on wearing face coverings on public transport should not encourage more to use trains and buses.
From today, it will be compulsory for most people to wear a face covering on public transport to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Rail workers’ leaders said only key workers should continue to use public transport, and that police – rather than frontline transport workers – should enforce the rules.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “The changes in the rules are welcome as they are likely to lower transmission of the virus on the transport network.
“However, this must not be seen as a green light among the wider population to use public transport.
“It must remain the case that only the key workers who are keeping us safe during the pandemic continue to use public transport.”
He also stressed that people should continue to follow the two-metre distancing rule.
Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has been campaigning for face masks to be made compulsory for passengers on public transport and it is right that the police and not transport staff will be responsible for enforcing this new legislation.
“We have advised our members to avoid conflict situations in the event of any passengers refusing to wear face coverings.”
It is now also mandatory for all hospital staff, visitors and outpatients to wear face coverings.
The World Health Organisation has recommended the use of face masks in settings where social distancing is not possible, including shops and public transport.
But it said masks “on their own” will not protect from COVID-19.
There have been several studies on the effectiveness of face masks in curbing the spread of coronavirus.
A modelling study from the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich suggested that requiring everyone to wear a face mask in public, combined with on/off lockdowns, would prevent a second wave of coronavirus for 18 months.
The government’s scientific advisory group has said the evidence of coverings preventing the spread of infection from one person to another is “marginal but positive”.
A report published in The Lancet which used data from 172 studies in 16 countries found that by wearing a face mask there is just a 3% chance of catching COVID-19.