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Explained: What are the new rules on wearing face coverings in shops and supermarkets?

Face coverings will soon be required in shops and supermarkets (PA)

4 min read

On Tuesday, the Government announced that face coverings will soon be mandatory in shops and supermarkets, in addition to the requirement to wear them on public transport. Here’s what was announced.

Where do I have to wear a face mask or face covering in England?

Since 15 June, it has been mandatory to wear a face mask or covering on public transport in England. This includes trains, buses, ferries, and aircraft.

On Tuesday, the Government announced that face coverings would also be mandatory in shops and supermarkets. This new rule will come into effect in England from 24 July. 

There are currently no rules requiring such coverings in pubs, restaurants, or other enclosed public places.

Official guidance published in May advised people to wear face coverings in any enclosed public spaces where they may come into contact with people they wouldn’t usually meet.

What are the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

In Scotland, face coverings have been required in shops since 10 July, and on public transport since 21 June. Failure to follow the rules could result in a £60 fine, reduced to £30 if paid within 28 days. Similar exemptions as those in England also apply in Scotland.

The Welsh Government announced on Monday that face coverings will be mandatory on public transport from 27 July, but currently does not require them in shops. Face coverings on Welsh transport will be required to consist of at least three layers to be permissible. 

Face coverings have been required on most public transport in Northern Ireland since 10 July. Stormont has said the issue of wearing them in shops is being kept “under continuous review”.

How will the new rules be enforced?

Failure to wear a face covering can result in a £100 fine, reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days. And, you can be refused travel or access to an establishment if you are not wearing one.

Police are responsible for enforcing the rule rather than employees, and the onus will be on the individual to ensure they are following the rules. Guidance is set to be issued to police forces once details of the new legislation are established. 

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask?

Children under the age of 11 and those with medical conditions that could be affected by the wearing of a covering are exempt from this rule. People with disabilities are also exempt, as well as those accompanying somebody who relies on lip ready.

On Tuesday, minister George Eustice told the BBC that shop workers would not be required to wear masks while on shift.

Individuals who are travelling or visiting a store to protect their safety, such as domestic violence victims, are also exempt. 

What counts as a face covering and where can I get one? 

A face covering is a covering of any type which covers your nose and mouth. The Government recommends that surgical grade masks are not used to ensure supply to frontline workers.

Public Health England has issued advice on how to make and wear a cloth face covering out of a scarf, bandana or similar.

Do face coverings stop the spread of coronavirus?

Last month, the World Health Organisation changed its advice on the wearing of masks. It now says there is emerging evidence of airborne transmission of the virus, and that non-medical face coverings should be worn in public places where social distancing is not possible.

But the scientific community is divided over exactly how effective wearing a face covering is. A recent paper published by the Royal Society suggested that wearing a cotton mask reduced transmission by 54%, while a paper mask reduced it by 39%.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Lack of strong evidence of their effectiveness should not be considered a problem but the evidence is accumulating that they have a part to play in reducing transmission and also in protecting the wearer.”

Some experts also fear making face coverings compulsory could give people false sense of security and could cause some to ignore other measures such as handwashing and social distancing.

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