UK coronavirus LIVE: Death toll nears 40,000 as commuters told they must wear face coverings on public transport

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  • June 4, 2020
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Face coverings must be worn on all forms of public transport in England from June 15, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced, as the coronavirus death toll in the UK nears 40,000.

London mayor Sadiq Khan was among those who have been lobbying the Government to make face coverings mandatory on public transport. He said ministers have “finally seen sense”, adding that there is “a large body of evidence” that face coverings can help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Alok Sharma has tested negative for coronavirus after he dramatically fell ill in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Mr Shapps told the daily Downing Street briefing that Mr Sharma was “doing fine” and working from home, having spoken to him on Thursday afternoon.

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NHS medics reveal impact of Covid-19 misinformation from social media

NHS medical staff have revealed how coronavirus misinformation is having a direct impact on their work.

Thomas Knowles, advanced paramedic practitioner for NHS 111 said he had dealt with “multiple calls per day” involving false information around the disease, with people questioning treatments such as alternative remedies.

MPs on the DCMS committee were also told of a dangerous WhatsApp message which warned people they would die if they go to hospital for treatment.

“One of our members, for example, has direct experience of one of the Asian and Pakistani community up in the northwest where, via WhatsApp, is a lot of circulation of information suggesting that if you go to hospital doctors won’t look after you and in fact what they’ll do is, kind of, effectively, kill you, they will give you an injection, make you comfortable and leave you to die,” explained Dr Megan Emma Smith, consultant anaesthetist and member of EveryDoctor campaigning organisation.


Daily coronavirus tests in the UK:


Latest on coronavirus testing

The Department of Health, in a breakdown of testing statistics on its website, said in the 24 hours up to 9am on Thursday 96,474 tests were sent out for delivery and 40,110 were processed in person under pillar two of the testing regime, which includes swab testing of the wider population.

Some 39,735 tests were carried out on 22,977 people under pillar one – swab tests in NHS hospitals and Public Health England labs for people with clinical needs and health and care workers. This was the only pillar for which the number of people tested was given.

Another 40,385 tests were antibody tests, under pillar three, and 3,353 antibody and swab tests were carried out under pillar four as part of a national surveillance programme studying the prevalence of the virus.


Alok Sharma has received a negative test result for coronavirus:


BREAKING: Business Secretary Alok Sharma has received a negative test result after being tested for coronavirus, his spokeswoman said.  


Here are the latest figures from the Department of Health:


Nicola Sturgeon has tweeted in response to the face coverings announcement by Grant Shapps:


‘Another example of Government being slow to act’

Responding to the introduction of compulsory face coverings on public transport, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “This is just another example of the Government being slow to act. Two months ago, Labour immediately backed the Mayor of London’s call for face coverings on public transport to be compulsory. Yet only now Tory Ministers are acting.

“Two months after first raising this with Government we are still yet to hear whether drivers will be issued with gloves, masks, and other PPE items as standard, what specification this PPE should be and, if there isn’t sufficient PPE, whether buses should still run.

“We can’t go on like this. We need a comprehensive transport plan to get our public transport moving, to protect staff and to protect passengers.”


‘Travel companies must refund people’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said travel companies must refund people whose holidays are cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Companies can either offer you a voucher or they can offer the money back. Ultimately they must offer the money back if you prefer,” he told the press briefing.

“It is very important that travel companies do treat their customers properly and I will be doing everything I can to encourage them, to make sure they pay back or offer a voucher.”


Rees-Mogg faces challenge to resign over handling of ‘coronavirus conga’

Jacob Rees-Mogg has faced calls to resign over his handling of the return of MPs to Westminster during the pandemic.

The Commons leader was challenged by Labour about the “shambolic” long queues MPs had to form to vote, while Liberal Democrat former minister Alistair Carmichael likened the scene to “exercise hour in a category C prison for white collar criminals”.

Labour former minister Angela Eagle, referring to the “coronavirus conga”, warned it put at risk the health of MPs and parliamentary staff, adding Mr Rees-Mogg’s “arrogance” was to blame.

She the Commons: “Can he show some bravery and make time next week for us to debate his disastrous record and perhaps even call for his resignation?”

Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “What she has said is so overcooked, exaggerated, we poor members, we couldn’t queue for a little time to do our public duty, how hard was it.”

Mr Rees-Mogg, asked how adjustments will be made to help disabled MPs, said: “MPs with health concerns will need to make their own decisions about what is appropriate for them.”


Mr Shapps said: “I have spoken to Alok within the last hour he’s doing fine, actually he’s working today – just working from home – as usual, he’s awaiting his test results.”

Mr Shapps defended the decision to require MPs to return to Westminster rather than continue to work remotely.

He said dozens of pieces of legislation – including laws to combat coronavirus – needed to be considered by MPs.

“We simply haven’t been able to – Parliament has not been able to – pass that legislation, and that in turn, puts the whole country at risk.”

But he added that there were “strict social distancing measures in place” and the Prime Minister had “always been two metres apart from Alok Sharma”.


On Alok Sharma’s coronavirus test, Mr Shapps said he has spoken to the Business Secretary and he is at home, waiting for his test result.


Here is some reaction to the introduction of compulsory face coverings on public transport: 

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “This is a sensible step. We have been working closely with the Government to ensure that agreed increases in services on Britain’s train and Tube network is done in a safe and controlled manner, to help spread the loading, and maintain social distancing for the safety of passengers and staff.

“The instruction to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus will ease the concerns of people travelling, and working, on the transport network.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I’m pleased that our lobbying has paid off and the Government has finally seen sense and made it mandatory for people to wear face coverings on public transport.

“This is something I and others have been calling on ministers to do for some time, and is in line with a large body of evidence that they can help stop the spread of coronavirus.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), said: “The RMT has been campaigning for compulsory wearing of masks on public transport and this is long overdue, but we fear this announcement is being driven not by safety concerns but by the premature easing of the lockdown which is swelling passenger numbers and making social distancing on transport increasingly impossible.

“By themselves, face masks are nowhere near enough to protect passengers and worker safety on public transport.

“They need to be combined with preventing non-essential travel and compulsory enforcement of two-metre social distancing.”


Mr Shapps said he wants to use the recovery from the pandemic to ensure people travel by greener means.

He said that there has been a 100 per cent increase in weekday cycling going up to 200 per cent at the weekend compared to pre-Covid-19.

“We want to use this recovery to permanently change the way we travel,” he said.


On face coverings, Mr Shapps said the changes would be made under the National Rail conditions of travel and public service vehicle regulations for buses.

“This will mean that you can be refused travel if you don’t comply and you could be fined.

“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, because wearing a face covering helps protect others.”


Mr Shapps has defended the 14-day quarantine plans for those coming into the UK, saying the measure is “very sensible and proportionate”.


On whether staff will be policing face coverings on public transport from June 15, Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, said staff will also wear face coverings and passengers are expected to be sensible. “I’m not expecting a huge upsurge in railway staff having to police this,” he said.


Responding to a question about protection for renters during the pandemic, Mr Shapps said it is important to get people back to work, so they have the income to pay rent.