Face mask rules: compulsory coverings in shops, fines and who is exempt from wearing one

Face masks are compulsory in shops and supermarkets, as well as banks, building societies, takeaways and sandwich shops, the Government have announced. From August 8 the rule will also apply to places of worship, cinemas and museums. 

Visiting post offices, shopping centres and passing through transport hubs will also require people to wear face covering, including at train stations, airports. Anyone who fails to adhere to the new rules will face a £100 fine. 

Health and Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we move into the next stage of easing restrictions for the public, it is vital we continue to shop safely so that we can make the most of our fantastic retail industry this summer.

“Everyone must play their part in fighting this virus by following this new guidance. I also want to thank the British public for all the sacrifices they are making to help keep this country safe.”

The new rules will be enforced by the police, not shop workers who should instead “should encourage compliance”, officials said. They added:  “We will engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce as a last resort”.

Children under 11 years old and those with “certain disabilities” will be exempt.

Scientific studies have shown that wearing face coverings over the mouth and nose may reduce the risk of an infected person passing the virus on to someone else.

The Government has advised the public to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, like shops, where they will be with people they would not usually meet, since May 11. The new policy marks the completion of an about-turn on face coverings which has taken months.

On July 14, The Telegraph learnt that face coverings could soon be recommended in all public places including offices and other workplaces.

Read more: Best face masks to buy

Are face masks compulsory in shops?

The policy is now law, although ministers made the announcement earlier in the month in order to give ‘people time to prepare’, according to the Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Mr Hancock said: “The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher amongst men and 60 per cent higher amongst women than in the general population.”

He added: “There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop.”

Staff themselves will not have to wear a mask. 

Read more: How to make a face mask at home

Will I be fined for not wearing one?

Those who do not adhere to the rules face a fine of up to £100. It will be reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days.  Compulsory mask wearing will be enforced by police, according to the government, rather than shop owners and staff themselves, who can call the police or refuse the person entry.

Where are masks compulsory?

  • Supermarkets

  • Shops – and shopping centres
  • Banks and building societies
  • Transport hubs, including train stations and terminals, airports, ports, bus and coach stations or terminals
  • Post Offices
  • Sandwich shops
  • Takeaways 
  • Beauty salons
  • Places of worship (from August 8) 
  • Cinemas (from August 8) 
  • Museums (from August 8) 

Not required: 

  • Restaurants and pubs with table service
  • Hairdressers and treatment salons unless specified by the venue
  • Gyms and leisure centres
  • Cinemas, concert halls and theatres
  • Museums
  • Heritage sites
  • Dentists
  • Opticians
  • If you are exempt from wearing a mask (more on this below)

The government guidelines say, ‘you should also wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet’.

Buying food from the counter and then taking off a mask to sit down and eat will be banned. Takeaways with seating inside will be counted as shops, where masks will become compulsory.

A government source said only premises with table service would not require masks, adding that customers would not be allowed to come in, buy a sandwich at the till, then sit down.

“You have to sit down straight away if you are going to eat in. If you can sit at a table, you don’t need to wear a mask,” the source said.

Beauticians and hairdressers are asking customers to wear a mask – but many gyms are hoping to organise their space to take in social distancing so people don’t have to whilst exercising. 

Read more: Do I have to wear a face mask at work?

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask?

According to the official Government guidance, the below groups are not required to wear a mask:

  • A child under the age of 11
  • An employee of the transport operator, when they are acting in the course of their employment
  • A constable or police community support officer acting in the course of their duty
  • An emergency response member of staff, such as a paramedic or fire officer acting in the course of their duty
  • An official such as a border force officer, acting in the course of their duties
  • If you are on board public transport but remain in your own vehicle, such as a car ferry

Other legitimate exemptions listed include those with a disability or a physical or mental illness, and anyone travelling with a deaf person who relies on lip reading to communicate. 

Wearers are also permitted to remove them if it is necessary to avoid harm or injury, as well as to eat or drink if required, to take medication, or if a police officer or other official requests you to do so.

Customers in shops will also be allowed to remove them if they are required to present identification for purchasing alcohol and other age-restricted products. 

Read more: How to wear a face mask with glasses

Are there any exceptions to the rule?

Yes there are some exceptions, which the government have outlined as ‘reasonable’ reasons for not wearing a mask. These include if you’re travelling with someone who requires lip reading, if you suffer from severe distress when you put it on, suffer from a disability where you’re unable to put it on, or you need to eat, drink or take medication. 

Those who suffer from autism also don’t have to wear a mask, with the same applying to those who have an impairment which could be affected by putting on a covering. 

Are masks still required on trains and buses?

The current guidance has required masks to be worn on public transport in England since June 15. Travel operators can refuse to let passengers on board if they are not covering their face – and those who refuse to follow the new protocol could face a fine. Exceptions apply for very young children, disabled people, and those who have breathing difficulties. 

Uber has had restrictions in place since June 15, with both drivers and passengers required to wear a mask whilst in the vehicle.

A paper published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change on June 12 said that transparent face shields of the sort used by hospital doctors and nurses should be used by transport workers, teachers and retail workers.

It advises that visors, like face masks, be used by the public to mitigate the risk of infection where social distancing is not possible.

On June 5, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, announced that hospital visitors and outpatients would need to wear face coverings and all hospital staff would be required to wear surgical masks in England from June 15.

He told the daily Downing Street press conference:  “This will cover all staff working in hospital, it will apply at all times – not just when they are doing life-saving work on the front line – and it will apply in all areas, except those areas designated as Covid-secure workplaces.”

Read more: Where can I buy face masks?

What other countries are doing

The Government’s decision brings the UK into line with much of the Continent, where face coverings have been required in shops in Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece for weeks. 

Masks are routinely worn in China, South Korea and other countries in the Far East, which have dealt with previous coronaviruses in recent memory. At the beginning of this outbreak, much of the talk in the West was of how mask-wearing was a cultural issue and the scientific evidence was scant. 

The Centers for Disease Control in the US, which previously followed the UK approach, has recommended Americans wear “cloth-face coverings” when they are out in public. In Europe, the likes of Germany and Spain are all including face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their lockdown exit strategies.

According to Trisha Greenhalgh, a professor in primary health care at Oxford University, the evidence so far has focused on whether the masks can stop a wearer from being infected when in fact the realisation is gradually dawning that if we all wear even rudimentary masks there will be a lot fewer germs floating around in the first place. Here’s how it works:

“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” Prof Greenhalgh says. “If you were wearing a mask to protect yourself from everybody else’s droplets it would need to meet official standards. But we are talking about everybody as good citizens wearing them to protect other people.”

Read more: Best homemade face masks to try

What counts as a face covering – and what are the options?

From home-made versions crafted out of hoover bags and panty liners (yes, really) to bandanas that transform even the most genteel Home Counties shopper to roadside bandit, to the urban cycle masks beloved by Gwyneth Paltrow that make the rest of us resemble a poorly equipped Power Ranger. The question, naturally, is what kind of face mask do you have to hand and how can you wear yours better?

The most common design that everyone clambered to buy from Amazon in the early days of lockdown. Effective to a point, protecting the wearer against large droplets although not so much with airborne particles due to the loose fit. They are also only useful for a limited period of time as once they become damp through a person’s breath – which can happen in as little as 15 minutes – they become permeable.

The masks also cannot be re-used and must be disposed of after wearing. Which is possibly bad news to all those you spot wearing theirs under their chin as they answer their phone/sip their coffee/go for a crafty cigarette: once removed from the mouth they cannot be put back on again.

Note to NHS and care home staff: current guidelines state the masks can provide some protection if standing more than a metre from infected patients. 

Read more: Best bandannas, scarves, snoods and alternative coverings

The most effective mask in circulation (although still in critically short supply). The masks take their name from their ability to screen out 95 per cent of airborne particles. Experts do not recommend the public use these masks as they are intended for healthcare workers in close contact with coronavirus patients and require careful fitting around the face. The mask is only properly effective if worn with full PPE.

Top of the range are the so-called “urban air masks” developed by Swedish firm Airinum, which sold out after Gwyneth Paltrow was spotted modelling one and are now being peddled for hundreds of pounds on online auction sites. Fredrik Kempe, the co-founder of the Swedish luxury brand, says daily sales have rocketed beyond 10 times what is normal. 

The rest of us must make-do with the sort of neoprene anti-pollution face masks first modelled by Hannibal Lecter and later taken up by overzealous cyclists in a rose-tinted pre-Covid age when all we had to worry about was dying early from air pollution.

The masks remain untested with regard to coronavirus and don’t have to abide by the same standards as medical equipment, so check their filters are N95 grade (or an equivalent).

They also need to be washed or have their filters changed regularly, depending on the design.

A 2013 study by Public Health England (PHE) looked at the various suitability of household materials to filter bacterial and viral aerosols when used as masks. Vacuum cleaner bags seemed to be particularly good; less so, breathable materials such as 100 per cent cotton, linen and silk.

However, there is no evidence that your mask needs to be made with any particular expertise or care to be effective for controlling the spread of germs. Professor Trisha Greenhalgh has created her own mask out of a walking bandana with a panty liner folded inside, which she currently wears when she leaves the house. “Waterproof, sterile and thin, they are just the thing,” she says.

Advice from SAGE could recommend the public wear a face covering rather than a medical mask, in order to prevent a shortage for frontline workers in hospitals and care homes. 

A recent study conducted in South Korea found that if you have Covid-19 and cough on someone from eight inches away, wearing a cotton mask will reduce the amount of virus you transmit to that person by 36 times. At a press briefing last month, US president Donald Trump even claimed scarves were frequently “better” than masks. In actual fact the Centers for Disease Control guidance states that scarves and bandanas (which are broadly deemed to be similarly effective) should be used as a last resort when masks are not available.

Now recommended for public use by the US health authorities, bandanas are also catching on in the UK. 

Joanne Millburn has started a new Birmingham-based business, Millie’s Masks, designing cotton bandanas inspired by her 10-year-old daughter. Joanne, who in normal times is a wedding dress maker, says she has received 100 orders since setting up. Disturbingly the skull pattern is so far the most popular, though she says other designs are available. “The masks are not going to stop people getting the virus but certainly they will help prevent its spread,” she says.

Where once you would don one for insulating your basement, suddenly the humble builder’s dust mask has created the sort of levels of demand that have led to hour-long queues even to access the B&Q website. 

They provide a tight fit, which scientists say is essential for blocking out airborne particles. As with other makeshift Covid masks, people have taken to spraying them with a high-percentage alcohol spray in order to sterilise them between use. However do so with care, as studies in China have suggested this can lower filtering efficiency.

Think you understand the new rules? Test your quick knowledge below: 

What do you think about the new face mask guidelines? Tell us in the comments section below

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