From Monday 27 July 2020 it is compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport in Wales.
What is the new legal requirement?
From Monday 27 July 2020 it is compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport in Wales.
What is a “face covering” and how should it be worn?
Please see our advice on wearing face coverings in places where social distancing may be difficult, and our guide to making a face covering which has three layers (as is recommended by the World Health Organisation).
Face coverings must cover the mouth and nose. When putting coverings on, and while they are on, you should only handle the straps, ties or clips. Do not touch the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose. You should also wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before and after removing.
Where and when does the requirement apply?
The requirement applies to all enclosed public transport vehicles including buses, coaches, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft (where they take off or land in Wales). It also applies to taxis and to tourist services, such as mountain railways and excursion buses.
Face coverings should be worn for the duration of the journey on public transport. This means they must be worn from when you get on the vehicle and they must stay in place until you get off.
Face coverings must be worn at bus stations, railway stations, airports and ferry ports. Normal practice on maintaining 2 metre social distance should be observed. General guidance on good social distancing and hand washing and respiratory hygiene can be found here.
However, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult to achieve.
Who does the requirement apply to?
The requirement applies to all passengers aged 11 and over. It does not apply to staff or to police officers who need to board vehicles in the course of their duties to enforce the law.
Are there exceptions?
There are some exceptions to the general requirement to wear face coverings. In some circumstances there are exemptions which mean the requirement does not apply at all. In other circumstances some people may have a reasonable excuse, depending on the situation, not to wear a face covering some or all of the time.
Children under the age of 11 are exempt and are not required to wear face coverings on any transport.
Similarly there is no legal requirement to wear a face covering on dedicated school transport, whether that is a bus or a taxi. (Separate guidance on school transport will be given to local authorities, schools and transport operators ahead of the new school year.) A child over the age of 11 who is travelling on ordinary public transport will need to wear a face covering.
Other exemptions apply to cruise ships and most ferries. Ferries where the passenger area is open air, where 2 metre social and physical distancing can be maintained or where passengers stay in their own vehicles are exempt. If a ferry isn’t exempt, face coverings do not need to be worn inside cabins occupied by members of a single household or of an extended household (including a carer who is considered part of the household for these purposes).
You may have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if (for example):
- You are not able to put on or to wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, or because of a disability or impairment;
- You are accompanying somebody who relies on lip reading where they need to communicate; or
- You are escaping from a threat or danger and don’t have a face covering.
You may also have a reasonable excuse to remove a face covering temporarily if (again, for example):
- You need to take medicines;
- You need to eat or drink, and this is permitted on the type of vehicle you are on; or
- You need to remove a face covering in order to avoid harm or injury, either to yourself or others – for example to get somebody’s attention about a danger.
However, whether somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering at any particular moment depends on the individual and the circumstances in which the individual is travelling. This may mean that somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering sometimes but not others. And the reasonable excuse may be temporary and not apply throughout the journey.
For example, when considering whether there is a need to eat or drink in the course of the journey, the length of the journey, any physical conditions and the temperature and humidity in the vehicle may all be relevant. Most people do not need to eat or drink on short journeys, but this may be different for somebody who is diabetic, for example, or in in hot weather.
Most people who suffer from asthma, for example, may be able to wear a face covering for short journeys. However, they may not feel comfortable on long journeys or in hot weather. Some may also feel that they can’t breathe when wearing a face covering. Likewise, in most circumstances people can avoid taking medication on a journey, in particular a short journey.
How can I show that I am not required to wear a face covering?
Whether somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering will not always be obvious. Disabilities and impairments are not always visible to others and respect and understanding should be shown to those who have good reasons not to wear face coverings.
We advise passengers to carry information if possible which demonstrates why they have a reasonable excuse (for example a prescription or evidence such as a hospital appointment letter relating to a medical condition). A number of transport operators are also suggesting that those who have a reasonable excuse carry cards that can be downloaded from their websites and printed.
How will the requirement be enforced?
The Welsh Government hopes that passengers using public transport will understand the reasons for wearing face coverings and will do so. It is vital however that the new rules are explained to passengers and that they have an opportunity to comply.
Transport operators are required to provide information about the legal requirement to those intending to use their vehicles. This information may be provided in a variety of ways. Transport operators websites should carry specific information on wearing face coverings as part of the conditions of travelling and may provide links to other useful websites – for example, showing how to make a face covering and how to wear a face covering properly. Notices advising passengers of their legal obligation to wear face coverings should be displayed in a prominent place on board the transport (in both English and Welsh) whenever feasible. Notices and information should also be provided at facilities such as bus stops, train stations, ferry terminals, and departure lounges.
Transport operators are also required by Welsh law to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus on their premises, which includes vehicles. They have a part to play in keeping people safe while travelling.
So drivers, crew and on board staff have a role in explaining what the requirements are and ensuring that passengers wear face coverings. Wearing face coverings should be regarded as an essential behaviour for travel alongside other well-established behaviours. For example, drivers and transport operators will, with good reason, refuse to carry passengers who attempt to smoke on board. Smoking in this circumstance is viewed as a threat to the health of drivers, staff and other passengers. Drivers should refuse to carry a passenger who fails to wear a face covering when boarding a bus, for example, for the same reason unless they have an exemption or a reasonable excuse not to.
If a passenger ignores an instruction to wear a face covering given by a transport operator or an employee of the operator, this (of itself) is an offence. It is also an offence not to wear a face covering on public transport unless an exemption applies or a passenger has a reasonable excuse.
When asked, passengers will be given an opportunity to wear a face covering or explain why they have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering. If they are not complying with the law passengers may be told to get off the vehicle they are travelling on. However, police or environmental health officers can also issue a fixed penalty for breaches of these requirements. A first offence is punishable by a penalty of £60 (which doubles for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £1920). Repeat offenders could also be prosecuted in court where there is no limit to the fine that may be issued.
Why is this being done?
The requirement is being imposed to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus and is part of a wide range of restrictions and requirements that seek to contain the spread of the virus.
The main justification for wearing face coverings on public transport is that there is less scope in buses, trains, aeroplanes and taxis for taking other steps to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus. On public transport passengers are generally confined to a seat for the duration of the journey and movement away from other passengers is often not possible.
The World Health Organisation advises use of face coverings in crowded enclosed environments where social distancing is not possible. England and Scotland have introduced compulsory face coverings for public transport, as have many other countries around the world.
Advice from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales has recommended for some time the use of face coverings in confined spaces where social distancing may not be possible. Social distancing and good hand washing and respiratory hygiene are still the most important things we can do to contain the virus. However, making the use of face coverings compulsory on public transport is an acknowledgment that social distancing is generally not possible on most vehicles.
We are learning more about the coronavirus all the time and science suggests that wearing face coverings in confined spaces is likely to inhibit the spread of virus. They do this mainly by containing the virus to the mouth or nose of an infected person. So to be effective they need to be worn by all who can wear one. This is particularly important because many people who carry the virus display no symptoms and will not know they could be infecting others (anyone who does have symptoms or suspects they have the virus, should self-isolate immediately and apply for a test in line with established practice).