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How can I stay safe on public transport?

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Updated 9th July 2020 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information.

As we’re all aware, the UK is currently in lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that we’re all having to take steps to avoid contact with one another, as this is the best way to limit the spread of the virus.

Recently, lockdown measures were slightly eased in England. In a change from the original message of “Stay home”, the most recent government guidance urged people to “Stay alert”.

This means:

  • Working from home if you can
  • Shopping locally and less often
  • Limiting the number of people you see
  • Socially distancing from people you do not live with or are not in your support bubble
  • Washing your hands regularly

As a result of this shift in guidance, many people in England have begun to return to work. This is a cause for concern, as it has led to an increase in the number of people using public transport.

If you’re starting to use public transport again, and you’re worried about coming into contact with someone who has the virus, read on. We’ve put together some simple tips to staying as safe as possible.

Please note: this guidance is designed for people living in England. If you are living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or part of a local lockdown you should follow local guidance.

1. Stay home if you’re experiencing symptoms

If you’re currently experiencing symptoms, or self-isolating because you’ve recently had them, you shouldn’t travel. You also shouldn’t travel if someone you’re living with has the virus or is experiencing symptoms, and if you have been advised by the NHS test and trace service to self-isolate.

I’ve received a letter from the NHS telling me I’m at high risk. What should I do?

If you’ve been informed you that you are clinically extremely vulnerable (i.e. at high risk from the virus) you can leave your home as long as you can maintain social distancing. 

2. Plan your journey in advance

Before you leave the house, sit down and plan your travel – even if it’s a journey you’ve taken before. Some routes may be disrupted or not running. It’s also likely that travel will take longer than normal. If you can try to avoid using public transport at busy times.

How can I make my journey safer?

Where possible, plan a route that incorporates walking or cycling, as this will reduce the amount of time you spend in enclosed spaces with other people.

3. Wear a face covering

From the 15th June face coverings will be required when travelling on public transport in England. You can use something as simple as a cloth scarf or bandana to cover your face, but make sure this covers your nose, mouth and chin. Alternatively you can buy face masks.

Before you put on a face covering you should wash your hands. Once it’s on, you should avoid touching the front of it, and when you take it off you should wash your hands and any surfaces that the covering has touched. You should store it in a plastic bag until you have the opportunity to wash it if reusable, which should be done in a normal laundry load with detergent.

This guide from GOV.UK offers more instructions, and shows you how to make your own face covering.

Should I wear gloves?

You can wear gloves when you are out of the house, however this should not be a substitute for hand washing. If you do wear gloves on public transport, make sure you don’t touch your face while you have them on, and wash your hands thoroughly after removing them.

4. Carry hand sanitiser

Hand sanitiser is not a substitute for properly washing your hands, but it is the next best thing. When travelling on public transport, you can reduce your risk of infection by sanitising your hands after they have touched communal surfaces, such as poles, seats or buttons.

What is the best hand sanitiser in the UK?

The NHS doesn’t have specific guidelines about what type of hand sanitiser is best. However, you should buy one that has an alcohol content of at least 60%.

5. Avoid touching your face

Even if you are carrying sanitiser and are able to clean your hands, you should still avoid touching your face while travelling on public transport.

What are some tips for avoiding touching your face?

If you have long hair, keep it tied back so it doesn’t fall into your face. You might also find that wearing a face mask or covering reduces the urge to touch your face.

6. Keep your distance from other people

On public transport you often can’t avoid coming into close contact with other people. Where possible, try to keep your distance and face away from them. If the opportunity arises to move away, you should do so. You should try to maintain a distance of two metres, if this is not possible aim for one metre distance. This will help reduce to risk to yourself and others, and where possible try to take suitable precautions. 

Can I stay close to people I know?

If you are travelling with people you live with, you can stay close to them. You shouldn’t come closer than two metres with anybody else from outside your household – unless you have formed a support bubble.

7. Wash your hands as soon as you arrive at your destination

Get into the habit of going straight to the sink as soon as you arrive at work or home. You should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, making sure that you clean every part of the hand thoroughly.

Is there a guide to show me how to wash my hands?

Our guide contains a video and pictures showing you how to wash your hands properly.

8. Bathe and wash your clothes when you get home

If possible, get into the habit of taking a shower or bath when you return home, before you come into contact with other people in your house. Change into clean clothes afterwards, and wash the clothes you were wearing, or store them safely until they can be laundered.

Do I need to use a special detergent?

No, you can use your normal laundry detergent.