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Coronavirus: New guidance on face masks and coverings released for England

A woman wearing a face covering in a shop

Image copyright
Reuters

Full guidance on wearing face coverings in shops in England has been released, less than 12 hours before the new rules come into force.

Coverings will be mandatory in enclosed public spaces including supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks and post offices.

They must also be worn when buying takeaway food and drink, although they can be removed in a seating area.

Those who break the rules could face a fine of up to £100.

There are exemptions for children under 11, those with disabilities or certain health conditions, such as respiratory or cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to wear a face covering.

Public Health England has warned parents not to buy coverings for babies and young children because of the risk of choking or suffocation.

It is not compulsory for shop workers to wear face coverings but the government said it “strongly” recommended that employers consider their use where appropriate.

The government said it was the responsibility of individuals to wear one, although businesses are encouraged to take steps to encourage customers to follow the law, such as with signs.

Police will have powers to enforce the rules, although forces have said this will be a last resort and officers will not be patrolling premises.

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Getty Images

Image caption

The government said evidence suggests that when used correctly, face coverings may reduce the chance of infecting others

The government has been accused of mixed messaging over wearing masks in takeaways, with trade bodies and MPs saying there had been confusion about how the rules would apply.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “If you are in a premises where you are able to sit down and consume food or drink that you have bought, then you can remove your face covering in order to eat and drink on site.”

The criticism came after ministers and Boris Johnson’s official spokesman contradicted each other over how the rules would apply to takeaways and sandwich shops.

Speaking before the guidance was published, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the messaging from the government had been contradictory and it was “very late in the day” for the guidance to be confirmed.

Unison official Jon Richards also said the UK “was late to the table on face coverings and now people don’t know what they should do”.

He said the rules on face coverings were in place for shops and public transport but not for some other enclosed spaces such as libraries, register offices and civic centres. “The public needs clarity to end the muddle,” he said.

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Media captionHow to wear a face covering

According to the government, face coverings should cover the mouth and nose and can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that securely fits around the side of the face without having to be held in place.

You are allowed to remove a face covering in certain situations, for example to prove identification in banks or when buying age restricted products.

Wearing a face covering will not be mandatory in some venues that have measures in place to protect staff and the public from Covid-19 including:

  • Eat-in restaurants and pubs
  • Hairdressers and other treatment salons
  • Gyms and leisure centres
  • Cinemas, concert halls and theatres

Face coverings have been compulsory in shops in Scotland since 10 July. Shoppers are not currently required to wear them in Wales or Northern Ireland, although NI is also considering changing its advice.

Coverings are already compulsory on public transport in England and Scotland, as well as most buses, trains and ferries in Northern Ireland. They will be mandatory on public transport in Wales from 27 July.

Can police make me cover my face?

The Police Federation, which represents front-line officers, says they can’t spend their time patrolling thousands upon thousands of outlets.

Shop staff and security guards can already detain shoplifters while waiting for the police to arrive. However, the general power of the citizen’s arrest is only exercisable to apprehend criminals committing offences that would go before a judge and jury. A penalty ticket for being socially obnoxious would not cross that high bar.

Police leaders hope shop managers will refuse non-mask wearers entry – rather than turning to the police to solve the problem.

Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has said that police in London would only enforce the wearing of coverings in shops “as a last resort” – if people not wearing a covering refused to leave a shop or became “aggressive”.

Read more here.

Tracy Cannard, who works in a supermarket and is a representative of the shopworkers’ union USDAW, said while increasing numbers of customers were choosing to wear masks this still only amounted to around 20% and making it compulsory would help her feel safer.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said he was advising its members to communicate the rules on face coverings through posters and informal conversations – rather than challenging customers who did not wear one.

He said incidents of verbal and physical abuse of shop workers had increased during lockdown and retailers did not want to risk creating a “flashpoint” for confrontation.

The head of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, also warned the new rules could put staff at risk of abuse. “The new rules requiring shoppers to wear masks may further risk staff safety, she said.

“Shop staff are not required to police the wearing of face masks – employers must make this clear. And every employer must publish a risk assessment that sets out how they will safeguard staff from abusive customers and those who refuse to wear masks.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “everyone must play their part” by following the new guidance.

“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,” he said.

“I also want to thank the British public for all the sacrifices they are making to help keep this country safe.”

In other developments:

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