Face coverings will be mandatory for most passengers on public transport in England from Tuesday as part of new measures in response to the identification of a new COVID-19 variant.
Downing Street said at the weekend that early indications suggest the variant, which has been named Omicron by the World Health Organisation, may be more transmissible than the currently dominant Delta variant and existing vaccines may be less effective against it.
At a press conference on Saturday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport ‘from next week’, although hospitality settings will be exempt.
On Sunday, the Department of Health and Social Care stated that the requirement, which already applies under devolved administrations as well as on Transport for London services, would apply from 4am on Tuesday. Many passengers will remain exempt from the requirement for health and other reasons.
Responding to the announcement the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the UK bus and coach industry, said: ‘Operators will be communicating to passengers that it now a legal requirement to wear a face covering unless exempt and reminding them of their responsibility to comply with this change of approach, which the police will enforce. As they have throughout the pandemic, we expect passengers will work with operators to ensure passengers can travel safely.
‘People can still have the confidence to travel by bus with measures to improve ventilation and tools such as apps to allow customers to see how busy their bus is.’
Mr Johnson also announced that all international arrivals must now take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. This requirement also comes into operation on Tuesday.
It follows the addition on Friday of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to the travel red list. Passengers arriving in England from 4am on Sunday (28 November) are required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.
In addition, all contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.