Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport from Monday 15 June, and people could be refused travel or fined if they don’t comply, transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced.
Transport operators and the British Transport Police, if necessary, will carry out enforcement.
Frontline staff will also need to wear face coverings and the Government will work with unions, transport operators and the police to ensure they have the supplies they need, Mr Shapps pledged.
'The measures apply in England, and we are working with the devolved administrations ahead of implementation.'
In the Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Mr Shapps explained that a face covering did not have to mean surgical masks as these must be kept for clinical settings - 'it means the kind of face covering you can easily make at home'.
'We’ll make these rules changes under the National Rail Conditions of Travel and the Public Service Vehicle Regulations for buses,' he confirmed.
The move is timed to coincide with the further easing of the lockdown restrictions, as non-essential shops are set to reopen on 15 June, and some children may return to secondary school.
This means more people will be using public transport and Mr Shapps conceded that social distancing, while still very much the Government's guidance, may not always be possible.
'There’ll be exceptions to the rule for very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties,' he said.
'But broadly, as we come through this phase, we’re doing what many other countries have asked transport users to do. And as passenger numbers increase, and we expect this trend to continue, we need to ensure every precaution is taken, on buses, trains, aircraft and ferries.'
The Government has previously avoided calling for face masks or coverings to mandatory - although it is already policy in Scotland for public transport.
Mr Shapps said they offer 'some – albeit limited – protection against the spread of the virus'.
'A face covering helps protect our fellow passengers. It is something that we can each do to help each other.'
Despite fewer people travelling overall during this crisis, around a 100% increase in weekday cycling has been recorded rising to around 200% at weekends, compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Mr Shapps concluded that the Government wanted to use the recovery period 'to permanently change the way we travel', with a long-term shift to more sustainable green transport.
He reminded commuters they could access the Cycle To Work scheme which enables employees to buy a tax free bike – an effective saving of 25 – 39%.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: 'People thinking of returning to public transport have told us they want face coverings to be used by all passengers. The Government’s decision will provide welcome clarity and will boost pressure on others to cover up.
'Passengers will now need clear information on where best to find a face covering, if they will be handed out at stations and if they will be turned away if they aren’t wearing one.'