July 27, 2020

Face coverings are now mandatory - what this means for you

From the 24th July, the government made it a requirement to wear a face-covering in shops in England.

What constitutes a ‘face covering’?

This has quite a broad definition which makes cohering to the rules a lot easier. It is a covering of any type which covers a person’s nose and mouth. You can buy single-use masks, reusable masks, use an item of clothing, or follow government guidelines on how to make your own.

The government advised that a face covering should:

  • cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
  • fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
  • be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
  • ideally include at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organisation recommends three depending on the fabric used)
  • unless disposable, it should be able to be washed with other items of laundry according to fabric washing instructions and dried without causing the face covering to be damaged

What are the rules on face coverings whilst shopping?

Friday the 24th July is when it will become compulsory to wear a face covering in England. This is for visitors to the shop, not shop workers. This is no longer voluntary guidance, it will be mandatory and therefore you can expect a fine of up to £100 if you do not comply.

If an individual (without a valid exemption) refuses to wear a face covering then shops can refuse them entry and call the police. The police can then issue a fine for non-compliance.

Matt Hancock: “We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops”

What are the rules on face coverings whilst on public transport?

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force on the 15th July 2020. This states that no person may, without reasonable excuse, use public transport without wearing a face covering. The requirement does not strictly apply to everyone. A few examples of this include; children under the age of 11, relevant officials acting in the course of their employment, and emergency responders acting in that capacity.

For the everyday person to fall under a ‘reasonable excuse’ they would have to fit into one of the limited categories which are detailed in the legislation. For example; the person they are travelling with requires lip reading, they have to take medication, or if it is reasonably necessary for them to eat or drink.

Generally, for your own safety, the safety of others and to avoid a fine you should wear a face covering at all times on public transport.

Are there any exemptions?

Yes, the government has laid out a list of legitmate reasons which include:

  • young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommended face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink if reasonably necessary
  • in order to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:

  • if asked to do so in a bank, building society, or post office for identification
  • if asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification, the purpose of assessing health recommendations, such as a pharmacist, or for age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products such as alcohol
  • if speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering.This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.

Why are these rules in place?

Scientific experiments have confirmed that this measure is very efficient and reducing the risk of transmission. Studies have found that where there are government policies to wear a mask, or this is the cultural norm, there were lower death rates. 40% of people with Covid-19 may have no symptoms but will spread the virus through droplets when they talk, cough, or sneeze. Wearing a face covering means that people who have the virus, whether aware or not, will be up to 85% less likely to spread it.

Face coverings should be used in conjunction with the other Covid-19 rules and guidance, such as washing hands regularly and maintaining 1m+ social distancing.

Matt Hancock: “Wearing a face covering does not mean that we can ignore the other measures that have been so important in slowing the spread”

Do other countries have similar rules?

In a nutshell, yes. Many other countries, like Spain, Italy and Germany, have similar rules in place. Wales and Northern Ireland are not currently required to wear face coverings for shopping but this is under constant review by both nations.

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