Government outlines new guidance regarding facemasks

The government has outlined new guidelines on facemasks as new rules regarding the wearing of masks come into force on July 24.

In England, people must wear a face covering by law in the following settings: public transport, indoor transport hubs, shops and supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, banks, building societies, and post offices. It is expected that people wear a face covering immediately before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until exiting.

Face coverings are also needed to be worn in NHS buildings, including hospitals and GP surgeries. It is also strongly encouraged that people wear face coverings in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing may be difficult. Individual settings may also have their own policies. Although face coverings are required to be worn in any shops, they are not required to be worn in hospitality settings such as restaurants, bars, or pubs. Similarly, face coverings are not required in entertainment venues (such as cinemas), visitor attractions (e.g. museums), exercise and sports venues (e.g. gyms).

People are allowed to remove their face covering in order to eat and drink if reasonably necessary, and if there is a café in a shop, then they can remove the covering in this area only. If people do not comply with this law then measures can be taken. Shops, supermarkets and other premises where face coverings are required can refuse entry to anyone who does not have a valid exemption. Likewise, transport operators can deny access to their public transport services if a passenger is not wearing a face covering or ask them to leave a service.

Finally, if necessary, police officers have enforcement powers including issuing fines of £100. However, in England there are certain circumstances, for health or age reasons, where people are not expected to wear face coverings.

Legitimate reasons for not needing to wear a face covering include: being a young child under the age of 11; not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability; if someone is travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate; in order to take medication; or if a police officer requests the removal of the face covering.

The government backed up the new face covering regulations by stating that the coronavirus usually spreads through droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking, and that those droplets can also be picked up other ways such as touching surfaces and then your face without washing hands first. They added that this explains why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes is incredibly important in controlling the spread of the virus. Therefore, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances – helping to protect others.

The government further emphasised that because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus, they are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing. 

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Lauren Bramwell