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Coronavirus face masks on public transport in Northern Ireland being considered by Stormont

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Announcement: Grant Shapps

Announcement: Grant Shapps

10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty

Announcement: Grant Shapps

Stormont ministers have held discussions over the wearing of face masks on public transport after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced they would be mandatory in England from June 15.

Mr Shapps said "we need to ensure every precaution is taken" on buses, trains, aircraft and ferries as further lockdown measures are eased and passenger numbers increase.

Currently, passengers here and in England are advised to wear a face covering, but are not stopped from travelling without one.

A month ago, the Stormont Executive said that the public should consider covering their face in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible.

At the time, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said face coverings should now be worn on public transport, but will not be compulsory.

Ms Mallon said last night she was meeting Justice Minister Naomi Long and the Chief Scientific Advisor "to discuss options on mandatory face coverings to protect operators and passengers". She is expected to meet Translink officials and unions this morning "to agree the way forward".

"We need to get this right together for all #EssentialTravel," she tweeted last night.

At yesterday's Downing Street press conference, Mr Shapps said changes would be made to the conditions of travel for trains and buses in England.

"This will mean that you can be refused travel if you don't comply and you could be fined," he said.

"Alongside transport operators, this will be enforced by the British Transport Police if necessary, but I expect the vast majority of people won't need to be forced into this."

Young children and people with disabilities and breathing difficulties will be exempt.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy told the briefing he is "not expecting a huge upsurge in railway staff having to police this".

He added: "I am expecting sensible passengers to do their duty and look after themselves and others."

Mr Shapps suggested passengers on trains starting outside England may have to put on coverings when crossing the border.

It would be up to the devolved nations to issue their own guidance, but "I don't think it will turn out to be terribly confusing", he insisted.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that her government is "considering making it mandatory" to wear face coverings on public transport and in shops. Face coverings can be a scarf, piece of cloth or mask.

The government says they are "marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure", and states that evidence suggests face coverings do not protect the wearer, but may protect other people if he or she is infected.

Surgical masks should be reserved for people who need them for protection while at work such as medical staff, according to official advice.

Belfast Telegraph