People could still be forced to wear face masks on public transport after July 19, the Transport Secretary has revealed.
On Friday, Grant Shapps confirmed that train operators would be able to make it a condition of carriage that face coverings were worn, suggesting it could be an appropriate measure at rush hour.
Mr Shapps indicated that rail companies may follow in the footsteps of airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet, which have said they will continue to require passengers to wear face coverings.
Transport firms "may well want to say, actually, we know that our services are particularly crowded, therefore, as a condition of travel, we require X to happen, face masks to be worn," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. "People will need to follow what’s required in order to buy a ticket and travel on that particular service."
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the companies that run Britain’s railways, said on Friday that it would not diverge from the Government’s intention to leave the choice to individual judgment. "It will come down to personal choice – we will not enforce masks," a spokesman said.
The RDG said companies would continue to issue advice to passengers to plan ahead and consider avoiding travel when it was busy.
The possibility of obligatory masks comes despite the removal of legal regulations on July 19, when Boris Johnson has suggested that whether or not to wear a face covering should become a matter of personal responsibility.
In London, discussions are ongoing between Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor, Transport for London (TfL), private train operators and trade unions about whether to make masks mandatory for those who travel. Meetings will take place over the weekend, with a decision expected early next week.
At a minimum, London and other parts of England that fall under Labour mayors are planning to launch new public health messaging campaigns "strongly encouraging" face coverings to be worn on public transport.
There is growing pressure on the Government to backtrack on the decision to make masks optional, with more than 120 scientists and doctors having signed a letter to The Lancet in which they accused the Government of conducting a "dangerous and unethical experiment".
Some in Westminster believe Mr Johnson will be forced into a U-turn as Covid cases soar. New daily cases have reached 35,707, the highest level since January, while hospital admissions are rising.
Face masks in shops are supported by 91 per cent of Britons despite the relaxation of rules, an ONS survey has found.
Retail experts have warned that staff who decide not to wear face masks in enclosed spaces could be at risk of abuse.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Our primary concern is that government messaging is clear about what is regulation and what is advisory so that people understand what’s expected of them, and that people are tolerant and allow others to make their own personal choices.
"Colleagues cannot be put in the firing line because of this change in policy."
Face masks poll
Some pubs, meanwhile, have said they will still expect staff to wear masks in a bid to boost consumer confidence.
West End theatre audiences will be "strongly encouraged" to continue wearing masks after the law changes, it is understood. The Society of London Theatres will announce on Monday that while members will no longer enforce face coverings, it will make every effort to ensure their continued use.
A source said: "Because it won’t be illegal we’d be on shaky ground if we turned people away who refused, but front of house staff will try their best to encourage it."