Police have been given the power to forcibly remove people who refuse to wear face masks on public transport.
Officers will also be able to issue £100 fines and arrest people for breaking a new coronavirus law that came into effect on Monday.
When announcing the measures earlier this month, the transport secretary said they would be part of the “conditions of carriage” for using trains, the Tube and buses.
Grant Shapps said face coverings would be enforced by transport operators with the assistance of British Transport Police when necessary.
On Friday, however, he announced the creation of a new law under the Public Health Act 1984 without giving a reason for the change.
The law states that “no person may, without reasonable excuse, use a public transport service without wearing a face covering”.
It says that if someone is not wearing one and refuses a police officer’s directions to either put one on or disembark, “the constable may remove them from the relevant vehicle”.
The law adds: “A constable exercising the power may use reasonable force, if necessary.”
It makes refusing to wear a face covering on public transport without reasonable excuse a criminal offence, as well as contravening instructions and obstructing police and officials enforcing the law.
Violations can be punished by £100 fines, which will be reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days.
Police could not previously enforce government guidance telling people to wear face masks on public transport.
A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said: “We are confident people will sensibly abide by these new rules; however, if officers encounter passengers not wearing a face covering on public transport, they will engage with passengers and encourage them to comply. Only, as a last resort, will officers use enforcement.”
Official guidance for police officers states that a “covering of any type which covers a person’s nose and mouth” is permitted.
The requirements do not apply to children under 11, public transport workers, police officers or emergency responders.
Other exemptions include people who are unable to wear face coverings because of any physical or mental illness or impairment, or “without severe distress”, and people who need to lip read.
Coverings can be removed to take medication or, if “reasonably necessary, to eat or drink”.
“The list of reasonable excuses is not exhaustive and officers should use their discretion to determine what may be reasonable in the circumstances with which they are presented,” the guidance states.
“They can direct a person they consider to be in breach of the regulation to wear a face covering or disembark from a relevant vehicle.
“Only a constable may remove a person from the vehicle, and may use reasonable force if necessary to do so.”
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 is the fourth piece of coronavirus legislation introduced in England during the pandemic.
The first was the Coronavirus Act, which only applies to “potentially infectious persons” and has been wrongly applied in several miscarriages of justice.
The second was the Health Protection Regulations, which originally enforced the UK’s lockdown by prohibiting leaving home without reasonable excuse, but which have been updated several times as measures eased.
The third was a new round of Health Protection Regulations on international travel, forcing people arriving in England to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) mounted a review of charges under the new laws after several miscarriages of justice were reported by the media.
New figures released on Monday showed that nine more prosecutions under the Coronavirus Act were unlawful, and have either been withdrawn or overturned, bringing the total to 53.
In all but one case, the people being prosecuted had also been charged with other crimes, including burglary and assaulting an emergency worker.
Of 84 charges under the Health Protection Regulations in May, 76 were found to be correct and eight were withdrawn, bringing the total number of wrongful charges to 20.
Four of those were against homeless people, who are exempt from the law; in two, the Welsh version of the law had been wrongly used, and the others were overturned on “evidential grounds”.
Of the 93 cases reviewed in May, 85 were charged by the police and eight by the CPS.
Gregor McGill, CPS director of legal services, said: “Continued hard work by the police and Crown Prosecution Service has improved the application and enforcement of the rules under the coronavirus legislation.
“Errors have significantly reduced, with all but one of the incorrect charges immediately identified and withdrawn by prosecutors in court.
“The CPS will continue to review all finalised prosecutions where no fixed penalty notice was offered, as well as every case where someone disputes they have breached the regulations, for as long as these laws remain in place.”
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